An 8-foot alligator that was found in a box with two cat carcasses in a suburban Los Angeles backyard might have been living at the home for as long as 40 years, animal officials said Wednesday.

After the alligator was seized, officers asked neighbors in suburban Van Nuys to let them know if any small pets had disappeared over the last four decades.

"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.

The alligator was transported to the Los Angeles Zoo, where it will be kept while animal control conducts an investigation.

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.

Mattson's home phone was disconnected.

It is illegal in Los Angeles to keep wildlife without a permit. Salazar said officials fully expect to present the city attorney with enough information to file charges.

Officers also found a large tortoise and some live cats at the home, Salazar said. Officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were called in to investigate the tortoise's presence at the home.

Officers think the alligator was kept in the large wooden box with a lid "at this time of year, because they are cold-blooded creatures and aren't very active," Salazar said.

"It was found under foliage and debris. You had to be looking for it to locate it," he said.

Brenda Barnette of Los Angeles Animal Services said authorities got a tip last year about an alligator at the same home but they found nothing.

The house is a family residence with multiple occupants, but no children were found there, Salazar said.