The crocodile is perhaps one of the most feared predators in the world. These massive, carnivorous reptiles are voracious predators that hunt by ambushing their prey next to waterways from the Amazon all the way to the Outback.
No one in their right mind would choose to consort with these terrifying monsters. Well, except for Chito Shedden, a fisherman from Siquirres, Costa Rica. When he happened upon one of these giant creatures, dying on the banks of a river he did something that no one else in the world would think to do: no one sane, anyway…
The American Crocodile is perhaps one of the deadliest predators living in North, Central, and South America. They can weigh up to 850 lbs and have been known to grow up to 16 ft long. They are also considered to have the strongest bite in the animal kingdom, exerting up to 5,000lbs per square inch. Needless to say, they are animals that most people will generally avoid if possible.
Gilberto “Chito” Shedden. Shedden was a simple fisherman and tour guide born and raised in Siquirres, Limón Province, Costa Rica. Chito also liked to dabble a bit as an amateur naturalist and acquired a broad range of interesting nature facts along the way, which helped his tour business quite a bit. Life was easy for Chito and wholly uncomplicated. That was until he happened upon Pocho…
The year was 1989, and Chito was walking along the banks of the Reventazón River when he happened upon something very strange. There, on the banks of the river, was a dying male crocodile. When he stepped up to investigate the skinny, 150 lb reptile, he realized it had been shot through the head and the left eye by a local cattle rancher.
He knew, as dangerous as it was, he couldn’t leave the poor animal there, alone and helpless. Chito acted quickly, enlisting the help of several brave friends to load the heavy reptile into his boat. He knew if he just got the animal back to his home, he could heal it, then release it back into the wild. He named the massive reptile, “Pocho” which means strength and began to care for him in his own backyard….
Nursing Him to Health
The altruistic fisherman started to heal Pocho with a combination of medicine, food, and, more importantly, lots of care and attention. Chito fed the crocodile a steady diet of chicken and fish. He procured medicine to stave off infection and even stayed by his side at night, going as far as to sleep right next to him at night.
Caring for Crocodiles
For six months, Chito hand fed Pocho. He even simulated the chewing of food with his mouth to encourage the crocodile to eat. Affection was one of the most important factors to Pocho’s recovery. Chito gave it kisses and hugs, he talked to it and pet it. “The crocodile needed my love to regain the will to live,” he said. His first wife was not pleased…
Weighing the Options
Her husband had brought home a dangerous predatory monster and planned to nurse it back to health. At first, she accepted it. Her husband was doing a good thing. Eventually, though, it seemed like Chito was spending a little too much time with the crocodile for her liking, and she left for good. Chito wasn’t upset, though; there was something special about the crocodile.
Released to the Wild
In time, Pocho improved enough to return to normal health. It was time for him to return to his own river in the wild. Chito and his friends loaded the crocodile back into his boat and released him in a nearby river. The two parted ways and Chito returned home alone. The next morning, however, something incredible happened…
When Chito awoke the next morning and walked outside, he found Pocho sleeping on his veranda. The crocodile had swum down the river and followed him home. It seemed to Chito that Pocho had made his choice, he wanted to live in Siquirres with the man who had saved his life. Pocho was moved into the lake on Chito’s property, and in time, the two grew even closer.
As time marched on, Pocho became a member of the family. Chito remarried and had a daughter of his own of course, but the crocodile remained a feature of their homestead. Although, the little girl was not permitted to go near the hulking reptile. After Pocho had followed him home, Chito tried calling his name. The croc responded, and the fisherman knew he could be trained…
Let the Bonding Begin
Pocho had bonded with his savior. Their long nights sleeping with one another, the food and friendship that Chito had provided him, they all added up to a strange bond between man and beast. Chito worked with Pocho for a solid 10 years before he started to become more playful. It was a slow, grueling process and it all started with Pocho getting used to being called by name and responding to Chito’s small touches.
Calling for Attention
Now, years into their relationship, the two are inseparable. Every day, Chito wades out into the chest-deep green water in his 100 sq/m lake and calls out for his friend, who appears from beneath the murky depths to roll about and play with his keeper. The bizarre ritual has drawn the attention of tourists from around the world…
Every Sunday afternoon for the past few decades, Chito and Pocho have performed a weekly act in his own backyard. The trust relationship between man and reptile is highlighted by the water wrestling, belly rubs, and hand feeding that the two friends engage in during the show. They even made a video documentary about their friendship calls “The Man Who Swims With Crocodiles”.
There is some speculation that the gunshot Pocho sustained may have damaged part of the crocodile’s brain, thereby inhibiting the more aggressive, instinctual tendencies. As a result, Pocho is now more receptive to human emotions than he would have been before the accident. After 23 years of love, trust, and care, there was very little chance that those instincts would ever resurface. Chito was safe with Pocho. Others, however, were not…
At their shows, Chito always makes it clear that his and Pocho’s relationship is about trust between man and crocodile. Others would not be able to swim with the now 1000 lb reptile safely. “He will look me in the eye and he does not attack me,” says Chito at every one of their shows. “It is too dangerous for anyone else to come in the water. It is only ever the two of us.”
Most of the time, Chito and Pocho swim in the evenings. The now 53-year-old fisherman will lay on the beast in the sun as well, the two of them catching rays. Despite their age, the two friends still like to rough house a bit when they swim. It’s clear that Pocho behaves more like a dog than anything else. Everything was going well for Chito and Pocho, until 2011…
Death of a Friend
On October 12, 2011, Pocho the crocodile died of natural causes. He was over 50 years old. Chito Shedden gave his longtime friend a funeral that would go down in history as the first of it’s kind. It was the world’s first human-style public funeral ever given to a crocodile. Pocho’s friends and admirers paid their respects at the large gathering, which took place in Siquirres, Costa Rica.
Chito even sang an emotional song to his pet and held his hand during most of the funeral. Afterward, Pocho’s body was given to the Siquirres town museum to be stuffed and put on permanent display. Costa Ricans still consider Pocho to be a national treasure and stop to pay their respects often. Chito Shedden, however, believes that Pocho’s legacy can live on, in his next “pet” project…
Since Pocho’s death in 2011, Chito had been working with a new crocodile whom he has named, appropriately, Pocho II. Like the first Pocho, Chito met this crocodile while fishing. Since that meeting, the fisherman has brought the reptile food and even pet the crocodile while the beast ate. He has said that he wants to continue the work he does with crocodiles to see if they can all be tamed in such a way.
Although he has made progress in establishing a relationship with Pocho II, many scientists and herpetologists are uncertain that he will be able to repeat the same circumstances with this crocodile. The original Pocho’s brain damage may have had a significant effect on his capacity to love Chito. Still, the man is confident he can now work in the same way with any reptile, as long as he has patience.