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Posted by W von Papineäu on April 29, 2003 at 22:10:57:
NEWS-PRESS (Fort Myers, Florida) 29 April 03 Bonita’s crocodile, Big Joe, takes last bask - Reptile has been a resident since 1936 (Mark Krzos)
One of Bonita Springs’ oldest residents has died.
Big Joe, a North American crocodile and one of the main attractions at the Everglades Wonder Gardens, died of old age Thursday night.
His exact age was undetermined, but Wonder Gardens owner David Piper said “he had to be around 75 years old.”
Piper, who is also a Bonita Springs city council member, said the loss of Big Joe is devastating.
“Absolutely it is,” Piper said. “I grew up with him. He was like a family member.”
Big Joe, who has been billed as the largest North American crocodile in the world, came to Wonder Gardens in 1936.
“He was accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net in Key Largo,” Piper said. “My grandfather, Lester, would pay fishermen money for them instead of killing them.”
Big Joe was 6 feet long and estimated to be about 6 years old when he arrived at the Wonder Gardens.
In his prime, Big Joe measured 15 feet long and weighed about 1,200 pounds. He ate 30 pounds of meat, chicken and fish per week.
Jean Hogue, a member of a pioneer Bonita family, said Big Joe was part of Bonita’s history.
“He’s been here a long time,” said Hogue, 68. “I remember him when I was 5 or 6 years old.”
Hogue once lived across the street from the Gardens and would frequently go over there to play.
“At that time, it was called the reptile gardens,” said Hogue, who swam in Joe’s old pen the day before the behemoth moved in. “He was a tourist attraction. He was synonymous with the Gardens.”
Tourists have come from all over the world to see Big Joe and Piper says they’ll still be able to see him.
“We had a professional taxidermist come in to have him mounted for the people next year,” Piper said. “People come back each year, just to see him.”
With Big Joe’s passing, Piper said Crusher, a 45-year-old crocodile measuring just over 14 feet and Old Man or Big Joe II, who looks a lot like Big Joe except that a portion of his tail was bitten off, now will become the main crocodile attractions.