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780-pound gator caught in Highlands County

Posted at 2:36 PM, Apr 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 17:01:37-04

A mammoth alligator killed in Highlands County this past weekend was just short of a state record.

Outwest Farms in Venus posted a picture Saturday of the gator hoisted from a piece of farm equipment on its Facebook page. According to the page, it was killed during a guided gator hunt.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Wednesday the gator was 13 feet, 5 inches and weighed 780 pounds.

Lee Lightsey is the owner of the farm. He says he first spotted the alligator last Thursday while riding around his property in Venus.

"There's usually a seven foot female, laying on the bank. I did a double take and there's one of the biggest gators I've ever seen out there."

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Lee said he's recently noticed some of his calves went missing on the farm, and said it's likely the giant reptile was to blame.

"I'm not concerned about a six or seven foot gator, but you get one like this... that could be bad."

He added, "As far as a gator this size, at some point in his life he has caught somebody's cattle."

He said that he not only worried the gator might eat his cattle, but it could also hurt his two children who use the pond for fishing.

Lee invited a hunter to come to his property to kill the alligator.

"I had a hunter that had been wanting to kill a big alligator so this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of him so I contacted him and the next morning the gator was history."

The news has garnered a lot of negative publicity, with some saying he should have sent it somewhere else, rather than have it killed.

"It should've been let go in the Everglades where we have the pythons, so it could eat the pythons," said Juan Gomez, who saw the photo in Miami.

But Lee defends what happened at his farm.

"We know what we did was completely ethical and legal and humane. But when someone has something negative to say, it still hurts. It still bothers you."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued this statement in response to the incident:

This alligator was taken through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Private Lands Alligator Management Program, which allows the regulated harvest of alligators on private lands that have a documented, harvestable alligator population and permitted by FWC with an established sustainable harvest quota. While the alligator has not been officially measured, the person holding the permit, Lee Lightsey, has indicated to FWC that the alligator was not big enough to surpass the current record.  It is not unusual for large, male alligators of this size to be harvested each year as part of Florida’s Alligator Management Program.  Florida’s current record for longest alligator measures 14 feet, 3 1/2 inches.

Florida Memory, the online archive for state government, says the largest recorded alligator in Florida was 17 feet, 5 inches.

Story updated to reflect the alligator was caught in Highlands County, not Okeechobee County