An 8-foot-long alligator has been living in the backyard of a San Fernando Valley home for about 40 years, animal control officials said Wednesday.
Officers from the Los Angeles Animal Services Department found the alligator Monday inside a wooden crate at the home in the 13200 block of Sylvan Street in Van Nuys, said department Cmdr. Mark Salazar. The alligator was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo.
"We tried to give him a good home," said Ron Gorecki, 53, who was among those caring for the gator, named Jaxson, for the last two years. The alligator's original owner was Gorecki's brother-in-law, who died last year. "He loved him, it was his pride and joy."
The alligator was purchased at a Los Angeles pet shop 37 years ago, and at first, he lived inside the home, Gorecki said.
"As he got bigger, he had to go back outside," Gorecki said.
It's unclear what species Jaxson is, but American Alligators typically live 65 to 80 years in captivity, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web database. Chinese alligators live about 70 years in captivity.
The alligator's presence was something of an open secret in the Van Nuys neighborhood: "Everybody knew Jaxson," Gorecki said.
When investigators arrived at the home Monday, the backyard crate housing Jaxson was covered in foliage and other debris, Salazar said. Along with the alligator, animal control officers found two cat carcasses inside the crate.
In August, officers searched the same property with the permission of those living there after someone in the neighborhood reported seeing the reptile.
That search came up empty; officials believe the alligator was relocated to thwart investigators, Salazar said.
Monday’s search was a surprise -- and at first, the home's occupants refused to grant access, Salazar said.
With a search warrant secured -- and the Los Angeles Police Department standing by -- animal control officers canvassed the home. Cats and a tortoise were also found living on the property.
Officials suspect the two feline carcasses may be of cats owned by nearby residents. Salazar asked neighbors to report if they had lost any small pets during the last four decades.
Staff from the Los Angeles Zoo helped to safely transport the alligator to the zoo, where the reptile is undergoing a health examination. The alligator was not sedated during transit, and its current health status is unknown, Salazar said.
Animal Services is continuing a criminal investigation and anticipates forwarding the case to the city attorney for prosecution, according to a statement from the department.
Keeping wildlife without a permit is illegal in Los Angeles, and Salazar said the home’s occupants lacked a permit for the alligator.
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