An 8-foot long alligator was found in a box with two dead cats in the backyard of a suburban Los Angeles home, animal control officers said on Wednesday. The alligator, which is estimated to be 40 years old, may have been behind the deaths of local pets over the years.

Authorities are reportedly investigating the case and were asking neighbors in suburban Van Nuys if their pets had disappeared over the last four decades. The female alligator was seized by officials on Monday after a neighbor spotted it and reported the matter to the animal control. A search warrant was issued by a local judge after authorities were denied entry into the yard.

"The homeowners said they have owned the alligator since it was a baby," Cmdr. Mark Salazar, director of field operations for Los Angeles Animal Services said, according to The Associated Press.

Officials have been making preparations to transport the reptile to the Los Angeles Zoo, where it will be kept while the investigation is underway.

Officers think the alligator was kept in the large camouflaged crate with a lid "at this time of year, because they are cold-blooded creatures and aren't very active," Salazar said, according to AP. "It was found under foliage and debris. You had to be looking for it to locate it.”

Laura Mattson told KCBS-TV, a local news network, that she had been caring for the alligator, named Jaxson, since her husband died two years ago. She also reportedly said that she had several cats at her home, but never fed them to the alligator. 

In Los Angeles, possession of wildlife without proper permit is illegal, AP reported, adding that authorities had also found several cats and a large tortoise in the house.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife were reportedly investigating the presence of the tortoise at the home.