When a hunter took a slain alligator be turned in to sausages, he had no idea he would solve a two-decade mystery.
Hunter Ned McNeely took the 12ft-long beast into Cordray's, a South Carolina wild game meat plant, and asked them to process the meat in to sausages, and stuff the body as a trophy.
But when staff got to work, they discovered several interesting items in the killer creature's stomach – including the undigested tags of five dog collars.
Shop owner Claudia Cordray said: “It definitely ate them (the dogs). It was an old animal, 50 to 70 years old.”
Incredibly, one of the phone numbers was still visible on the tags, and after calling it, they were given some shocking news.
Writing on their Facebook page, Cordray's said: “Two of the tags were legible and one phone number still worked. The owner said he had (hunted the same area) 24 years ago and those were from his deer dogs.”
Also inside the 445-pound (31 stone) reptile was one bullet jacket, one spark plug, loads of turtle shells and several bobcat claws.
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The discovery of the dog tags and other bric-a-brac happened entirely by chance, as Cordray's team of taxidermists and butchers usually discard the stomach without cutting in to it after learning the hard way that the contents can stink out their whole business.
Cordray said: “We normally don’t go into the stomach. That’s because we once went into the stomach of a big one years ago, and there was a very rotten 3-foot gar inside. It smelled so bad that every one had to leave.”
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According to local media, South Carolina’s alligators typically grow to 13 feet and live more than 60 years.
Cordray’s is run by Claudia and Michael Cordray and they handle over 100 alligators a year and can turn their meat in to sausages or jerky.
The taxidermy services, which is their son Kenneth's area of expertise, can transform a dead alligator into anything – even a “leg” lamp.
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The gator was living along the Edisto River and was harvested “at the behest of a landowner,” which is why it was killed outside of the State's legislated hunting season.
Cordray added: “It doesn’t surprise me at all. Where we live, lots of people have stories about walking their dogs on a golf course or where ever, and something grabs the dog.”
The Facebook post sparked a lot of comments from people sharing their own horror stories about dogs suspected of being eaten by the apex predators.
One said: “It’s crazy to me that among all the other wildlife we have, there are these huge predatory dinosaurs basically still lurking in all of our waters.”
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