FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ Thirty-two alligators were killed and left to rot on the west side of Lake Okeechobee in what may have been a vendetta against a state game officer, wildlife officials say.

Poaching was not the motive because the reptiles' valuable hides and tails - containing choice meat - were left intact, they say.

No arrests have been made in the gator killings, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Except during brief special hunting seasons, only wildlife officers and the state's 46 licensed nuisance-alligator trappers are authorized to kill the animals in the wild.

Capt. James R. Doxey, of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, said the shooting spree two weeks ago may have been a result of someone's anger over a poaching arrest, because at least one clue was left.

One gator was dangling from a pole and spray-painted on its carcass was the name of a wildlife officer who patrols the 700,000-acre lake.

Wildlife officers occasionally find one or two gators shot, ''but never on a scale like this,'' said Lindsey Hord, the game commission's South Florida Alligator Program coordinator.

''It was just wanton destruction. There is absolutely no justification for shooting that many gators,'' he said.

Alligators generally steer clear of humans, but there have been several instances of them attacking and killing or wounding people.

Despite that danger, wildlife officers say they still run across evidence of gator abuse not necessarily related to poaching, including bullet-riddled carcasses floating in canals and live gators swimming around with protruding darts or arrows.

Mike Rafferty, a nuisance gator trapper in Palm City, said he has seen people with guns using gators for target practice.

''Alligators are not an attractive species to most people. They are not furry when they are young,'' said Mike Jennings, an alligator biologist with the game commission.

The game commission made 227 arrests statewide for alligator violations - including poaching - from July 1988 to July of this year, said Maj. Jim Ries of the commission.

Lt. Dick Lawrence, who supervises the game commission's regional nuisance gator trapping program, recalled a case last year in which two men were arrested for dropping concrete blocks on a gator's head. The gator was under a bridge and not threatening anyone.

''We ended up going down and killing the gator because he was so badly injured,'' Lawrence said.

Fishing guides have been known to shoot gators and large birds that might threaten a customer's catch, wildlife officials said. And cattle growers have killed alligators on their ranches because of the threat to calves, Doxey said.