Alligator and Deer in Cross Lake

Alligator with deer in mouth in lake.

Terri Jenkins / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In June 2004, someone circulated photos purportedly taken at Cross Lake, Louisiana (or Lake Wiess in Alabama, or Lake Conroe in Texas, etc.) showing an alligator swimming through the water with a full-grown deer in its jaws.

The Chain Email

Alligator swimming with deer in mouth.

Terri Jenkins / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On purported hoax email read,

"This was taken by a KTBS helicopter flying over Cross Lake! (For those of you who are not local, Cross Lake is in Shreveport, La.) That has to be a HUGE gator to have a whole deer in its mouth! Are you ready to go skiing on Cross Lake?! If you ski at the west end of the lake—try not to fall."

Another version of the same image was accompanied by text that supposedly replicated a conversation between the helicopter pilot and a game warden via radio. In it, the pilot estimated that the alligator measured more than 25-feet long. Adult alligators rarely grow more than 14-feet long. The pilot understandably told the warden they would need reinforcements to capture the gator. 

Understandable, that is, provided ​the monster alligator (and the game warden and the helicopter pilot and the deer) ever existed. 

Photo Analysis

These photos showing a 12 to 14-foot-long alligator swimming off with a full-grown deer between its teeth are authentic, according to a press release put out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were taken by district fire management officer Terri Jenkins on March 4, 2004.

The various texts accompanying the photos on their viral rounds are complete fabrications, however. The photos weren't taken at Cross Lake in Louisiana, or Lake Wiess in Alabama or any of the other places the different versions of the story say they were. The alligator in the photo was not 25 feet long, nor was there an amusing conversation between the helicopter pilot and a game warden recorded for posterity while the taking of the photos.

According to Jenkins herself, she was about 40 miles south of Savannah, Georgia, on her way to start a prescribed fire at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, when she spotted the gator making off with its lunch from her helicopter (which, contrary to what the email says, does not belong to KTBS-TV in Shreveport).

American alligators typically feed on smaller prey such as fish, snakes and small or infant mammals but have been known to catch and eat adult deer when hungry and smaller prey isn't available.

Updates

A June 2004 variant of the email, equally false, claims the photographs were taken by an officer of the Texas Forest Service on assignment at a game refuge in South Carolina.

 A May 2006 variant claims the photos were taken by the WIS-TV "News Hawk" helicopter flying over Lake Murray in South Carolina.

Sources

Alligator Takes Deer to Lunch in South Georgia
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release, 23 August 2004

Prankster Credits News Hawk for Pics of Alligator with Deer
WIS-TV News, 9 May 2006