Record gator on display at Montgomery Zoo

Published 5:12 pm Monday, May 25, 2015

By Martin Swant | The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Mandy Stokes was wearing pearls the night she caught a monster on the Alabama River.

It took six deep-sea fishing rods, a bass rod and a shotgun to kill it.

The scaled and snaggletoothed giant wasn’t a fish, but a 15-foot, 9-inch American alligator, weighing 1,011.5 pounds and now boasting a world record as the largest alligator ever killed in the wild.

The now-mounted alligator, caught last summer near Camden, was unveiled on Friday at the Montgomery Zoo.

Years before the hunt, Stokes vowed that she would wear pearls if she went alligator hunting so that she would look nice on television if she broke any records.

“I always made a joke, ever since I had saw the state record, that I would wear pearls if I ever got to go alligator hunting, because I would beat that record,” she said.

“It was just a joke, and well, I did.”

Stokes — along with her husband, brother-in-law, niece and nephew — hooked the alligator with a bass rod before using deep-sea fishing rods to toss additional lines with treble hooks over the back of the beast.

According to Alabama state law, an alligator has to be secured to the boat without bait before hunters can use bullets. That can make for a risky situation when the alligator is as big as the boat.

Had it flipped backward at all, the nearly 16-foot gator would have been inside the 17-foot aluminum boat.

“He was under the boat a lot of the night,” Stokes said. “Had at any point he reacted angry or reacted in a negative manner and came up and flipped the boat over would have been a great (danger).”

At 4:45 a.m., six hours after they began, Stokes finally shot it in the skull, 6 inches behind the eyes.

The record was certified by Safari Club International.

Stokes said she had no idea of the alligator’s record size until later.

Randall Bush, the regional representative for SCI, said alligators are measured from the tip of the nose and across the curvature of the back to the tip of the tail.

“It’s like a mountain range,” he said. “If you measure from point A to point B on the ground, you get one measurement. If you go across the top of a mountain, you’re going to get another measurement. … We measure the maximum skin, the maximum body.”

During the mounting process, the taxidermist discovered a 3-year-old deer, two squirrels, a duck and the remains of a cow inside.

Gunter Guy, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, noted that unregulated hunting and high demand for alligator meat and leather from the 1920s through the 1940s drastically decreased the alligator population.

By 1967, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service had placed the American alligator on its list of endangered species. In 1987, it was taken off the list.

The reptile’s recovery in Alabama has been aided by the state’s limited-hunting policy, Guy said.