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My Visit with Gomek, the Largest, Tamest Salt Water Crocodile in Captivity

GomekAn old photo I recently came upon brought to mind my close encounter with a notable character in the zoo world – Gomek, a huge Salt Water Croc (Crocodylus porosus) who long resided at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida.

Fun and Games with Giant Crocs

At the time of my visit (1991), Gomek measured 17 feet long and weighed in at an amazing 1,700 pounds.  I was working at the Bronx Zoo, and called ahead try and arrange a behind-the-scenes look.  As always, the kind folks at St. Augustine were most accommodating.  I was met there by an animal keeper who was about to take an outside contractor into the giant beast’s exhibit to do some repairs.  Naturally, I was happy to tag along.

What first struck me was the seemingly suicidal entranceway into the exhibit.  Upon entering, you had to walk along a 3 foot wide path which was bordered by a pond on one side (in which Gomek invariably lounged) and a wall on the other.  I had no doubt that adrenalin would shoot me over that wall should Gomek charge, but still…

The outside contractor was a young man in the throes of terror, but he had a job to do and was determined to see it through.  The keeper explained that Gomek was quite calm, almost “friendly” in fact, and that in any event the stick he held would fend off an attack.  This seemed to calm the young man…that is until we were well within the exhibit and the keeper commented to me that it was “…amazing how folks believed that a broomstick would be of any use against a 17 foot-long-croc”!  But all went well, and I had an unforgettable close up view of the word’s most famous croc.

Note: using a stick when working with crocs is standard procedure for experienced keepers.  In the accompanying photo, I’m fending off the advances of an adult Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) in just such a manner.  The other photo shows the stick I mentioned above and Gomek surfacing to look us over.

Gomek’s History – Crocs, Elephants and Weight Lifting

Gomek was captured on the Fly River (yes, home to the popular Fly River Turtles, Carettochelys insculpta, upon which, I’m sure, he dined from time to time!) and wound up in the collection of Arthur Jones in the mid 1980’s.  Mr. Jones was quite a character himself – best known to most folks as the inventor of Nautilus weight training equipment, he was a superb animal man, and once maintained a herd of African Elephants on his property (Deland, Florida, if memory serves me).

Life at St. Augustine

Gomek faceAfter being transferred to St. Augustine (1990), Gomek subsisted on Nutria, or Coypu.  These South American rodents were brought to the USA to be bred on fur farms.  Many promptly escaped, and today millions are wrecking environmental havoc throughout the Southeast.  I’ve observed them as far north as southern Virginia…feral populations are also established in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Gomek died in 1997 at an estimated age of 85-90+ years old.  He measured 17 feet, 8 inches long and tipped the scales at nearly 1 ton…good thing he had a calm disposition!


Further Reading

Of course, Gomek has his own Facebook Page.

You can also read more about this incredible animal on the St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s Website.




  1. avatar

    I am a fan of the amazing amarican aligators.I live off of there beuty. They are my life.I live to keep them safe to my abilety i was rased in florida and lived with the animals most of my life.i thank you for this great read i lernd alot

    • avatar

      Hello Shawn,

      Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. American alligators are great favorites of mine also…it must be nice living where you can see them on a regular basis.

      This article on alligator pair bonds may interest you..I’m wondering if you’ve seen any evidence of this firsthand?

      Enjoy, Best regards, Frank

  2. avatar

    I saw Gomek a couple of years before his death. I went to the Alligator Farm on my honeymoon. Yeah, crocodilians on my honeymoon. That’s how I roll.

    The photos I see of Gomek do not do his size justice. There’s no way to fully appreciate the enormity of this animal without seeing him first hand. I am so sorry he is no longer here. My 20 year anniversary is creeping up on me. I think we’re going to have to plan a trip to the Alligator Farm to meet his successor.

    • avatar

      Hi Heather,

      Thanks…absolutely true, photos do not come close…

      I was collecting West Indian Racers (Alsophis) and giant mole crickets on my honeymoon (wife is, however, now an “ex”..but the creatures remain!). Hope you get to make the trip, enjoy, Frank

  3. avatar

    Arthur Jones lived in Ocala, FL, not Deland. I know because my grandpas house is next door to Jumbolair mansion and the air strip featured in the top picture. I don’t know how my grandma ever let my dad play outside as a boy with what he had lurking over the fence. Ha! Maximo is Gomek’s successor and quite impressive, but my heart will always have a spot for Gomek. What a remarkable animal in both size and disposition!! One of a kind, for sure!

  4. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Arthur Jones’s ranch was in Ocala, not Deland. (He previously lived in Lake Helen, near Deland.)

    Here’s a link to some photos of the place, including one of me inside the cage with Gomek:


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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