Okefenokee Joe, Monster Alligator That Roamed South Georgia Since WWII, Has Died

by Lauren Boisvert

Pour one out for Okefenokee Joe; the 11-foot alligator has died in the South Georgia swamps, where he lived as far back as World War II. As reported by CNN, Okefenokee Joe died of old age, according to Georgia’s Coastal Ecology Lab. Joe was part of a satellite tag program since June 2020.

The lab stated that they couldn’t determine exactly how old Joe was, but they had a guess; “he was a very old alligator as he had scar tissue over both eyes and his scutes were worn almost smooth,” the lab stated. Scutes, or osteoderms, are boney plates that protect the alligator’s internal organs. “Alligators can live to be approximately 80 years old though,” the lab said, “so it is possible he was close to that!”

Joe was more than 400 pounds, but the lab suspected that “his old age and poor vision hinder his ability to compete with younger alligators at this point.” At his size–400 pounds and 11 feet–he would have been a “dominant male alligator in his day.”

The lab stated, “We are so grateful to have known him, for his contribution to science and the further understanding and preservation of his species.”

What is Okefenokee?

Okefenokee is a Seminole word that means “Land of the Trembling Earth”. Okefenokee Swamp, where Joe lived, is a natural wetland in the south Georgia/edge-of-north-Florida region of the United States, specifically in Waycross, Georgia. It is considered a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It exists to protect that area of land and acts as a safe haven for the animals living there.

Visitors to the swamp can take a tour down the Swamp Island Drive, a “7.2 mile car tour featuring the Chesser Island Homestead and Boardwalk,” according to the refuge’s website. There are also canoe trails if water enthusiasts are interested in visiting the swamp.

Famously, alligators heavily populate the swamp. Hence, Okefenokee Joe. But the refuge is also home to sandhill cranes, black bears, and gopher tortoises, among a host of others. Okefenokee Swamp has lists of the mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds that call the swamp home on their website.

The Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge is “80% of the Okefenokee Swamp” and covers “353,981 acres of National Wilderness Area.” It is “one of world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems,” according to its website. For this reason, the RAMSAR Convention in 1971 considered it a Wetland of International Importance.

Giant Alligators Everywhere

Another giant gator with a fun name currently holds the record for the largest alligator in the U.S.; Big Tex lived in Beaumont, Texas. He was over 14 feet long and 1,000 pounds, and resided at Gator Country Park in Beaumont. When Tropical Storm Imelda blew through in 2019, Big Tex, along with 3-dozen smaller gators, were swept away as well. Trackers found Big Tex on the Gator Country Park grounds; turns out he didn’t wander too far from home.