He was the Okefenokee Swamp’s most popular resident until he died in the summer of 2007. But now, Oscar the alligator will be immortalized in the swamp he called home for nearly a century. Bone by bone, the aged star has been brought back to life, thanks to Don Berryhill, who, along with Jim Brewer and many others, volunteered his time, piecing the bones together like a massive puzzle.
“I’ve put together a lot of skeletons, but nothing like this,” said Berryhill. He says Oscar the alligator had more than 500 bones in his body. They’re very old bones, since he lived here long before the park was built.
“He was big when they built the place in 1945. He was full grown then,” said Berryhill. Back then he was hunted. “He took a shotgun blast to the face, plus 3 bullets, and he survived, he’s a tough little fella,” said Berryhill. And he’s got the wounds to show it. “One here, one here, one here and this bone is fractured,” said Berryhill, counting the bullet holes.” Before long, he was revered. “Most gators live 50, 60, maybe 70. They’re like people. Rarely does one go, 80, 90 or 100,” said Berryhill.
Not only did Oscar live to see about 100 years, while he was the dominant male of the swamp park territory, he was also one of the most docile. “All alligators are dangerous. But he was never aggressive the only thing he ever had conflict with was other male gators. So he defended his territory and his girlfriends,” said Berryhill.
So far, no other male has taken Oscar’s place. And for Berryhill, no one ever will. “It was somewhat emotional. He was a landmark,” said Berryhill. His death was sad for everyone. But in the end, they knew it was coming. “Finally, the last days of his life he spent in a place we call the Camellia Garden. It’s very isolated, no other gators go up there, and I think that’s why he went there, so he could die in peace,” said Berryhill. The project started in September, just a few months after the alligator had died. The project was completed in December 2009.
On July 19, 2007 Oscar was found dead of natural causes in the waters that surround our Camellia Garden. In 1945 when construction of the Park began, Oscar was the only known mature male gator and the Park was his territory. Today the vast majority of the Swamp Park’s alligator population are directly linked to Oscar as offspring….a part of Oscar lives on through them.
Now there is a unique educational exhibit using Oscar’s full-scale skeletal structure as the foundation for learning some bare-bones facts about the American Alligator. In the near future, guests that visit Okefenokee Swamp Park will not only have the opportunity to see hundreds of Oscar’s offspring but also they will have the opportunity to see what a legendary American Alligator is made of on the inside. For the last 3 years Oscar’s territorial traits had declined and he chose secluded waters away from the other gators so he could relax and enjoy the beautiful and peaceful surroundings. He will be missed but never forgotten!