A Los Angeles-area family may have secretly kept a pet alligator in their backyard for as long as 40 years, wildlife officials said. 

On today's "Happening Now", Jenna Lee reported that officers found the 8-foot alligator in a box in the backyard of a Van Nuys, California home, along with with two cat carcasses.  

Investigators are now trying to determine whether any small pets have been disappearing in the neighborhood.

Associated Press reported:

"The homeowners said they have owned the alligator since it was a baby," said Cmdr. Mark Salazar, director of field operations for Los Angeles Animal Services. And reptile experts estimate the animal is about 40 years old, he said.

The female alligator named Jaxson was seized Monday after a neighbor reported seeing it. At the house, officers were refused entry into the yard, so they went to a judge and quickly obtained a search warrant.

Laura Mattson told KCBS-TV she had been caring for the animal since her husband died two years ago. She said she had several neutered feral cats at her home but that there was no way she would have fed them to the alligator.

She said she's been trying to find a home for Jaxson and had even called the zoo but they were full. 

The alligator was successfully transported to the Los Angeles Zoo while animal control officials conduct an investigation.

It is illegal in Los Angeles to keep wildlife without a permit. No children were living at the residence.