NewsOn6.com

WATTS, Oklahoma -- A gator lurking near the Illinois River was shot Monday afternoon. This was the same gator spotted several times over the past few months near Watts in Adair County.

Now, investigators want to learn who released it in the first place.

For months, people driving on this county road near Watts have seen an alligator in the water next to the road.

"First thing out of my mouth, I was kind of pretty calm was, 'That's a freakin gator,'" said Adair County resident Chris Reese.

It's just a couple hundred yards from the Illinois River, so game wardens urged caution and hoped they could find and relocate the gator.

"The river here, there's lots of activity, with people in the summertime swimming, and everyday there are people here using the river and something like that could potentially pose a threat to the community," said Jared Cramer, State Game Warden.

The gator was finally discovered floating in the same oxbow by a man driving by on his motorcycle. It had been shot by a park ranger.

"He called another gentleman and they came down there and actually retrieved it out of the water and brought it up to the road," Cramer said.

The oxbow holds water year round and the 5'3" gator had been feeding on fish and turtles.

"I'm sure he could feed pretty easily," Cramer said.

"It's a closed season statewide, so there is no hunting allowed, you can't harass them, capture them, kill them, mutilate them or anything like that," Cramer said.

Cramer says just as concerning is that someone most likely released the gator in the first place. If it was brought across state lines into Oklahoma, that person could face federal charges.

"It may associate humans for food, as in they've been fed by humans so they may be attracted to them. Because they make think they are going to be fed, so that may pose the biggest threat," Cramer said.

For now the gator is gone, but the investigation is ongoing. Game Wardens hope someone comes forward with information.

People can provide anonymous tips and could even earn a reward at the game thief hotline at 1-800-522-8039.