“Pocho is my best friend,” says Costa Rican fisherman, Gilberto “Chito” Shedden, of the 17-foot, 1,000-pound crocodile named “Pocho,” that he calls his pet. “This is a very dangerous routine but we have a good relationship. He will look me in the eye and not attack me. It is too dangerous for anyone else to come in the water. It is only ever the two of us.”
Chito made friends with the croc after finding him with a gunshot wound on the banks of the Parismina river 20 years ago. He had been shot in the eye by a cattle farmer and was close to death.
Chito brought the croc into his house. He was small at the time, weighing only around 150 lb. He gave him chicken and fish and medicine for six months to help him recover. He stayed by Pocho’s side while he was ill, slept next to him at night. “I just wanted him to feel that somebody loved him,” Chito says. “That not all humans are bad. It meant a lot of sacrifice. I had to be there every day. I love all animals – especially ones that have suffered.”
At one point during his recovery, Chito left the croc in a lake near his house. But as he turned to walk away, to his amazement Pocho got out of the water and began to follow him home.
Chito recalls: “That convinced me the crocodile could be tame.” But when he first fearlessly waded into the water with the giant reptile his family was so horrified they couldn’t bear to watch. So instead, he took to splashing around with Pocho when they were asleep.
Now he swims and plays with Pocho as well as feeding him at the lake near his home in the lowland tropical town of Sarapiqui.
The odd couple have now become a major tourist attraction, with several tour operators, taking visitors on touring cruises to see the pair.
American crocodiles, which inhabit North, Central and South America, can live to around 70 years old. It is estimated that Pocho is around 50 – almost the same age as his owner. They are also said to be less aggressive than their Nile or Australian counterparts.
Chito, whose real name is Gilberto Shedden, was given his nickname by friends, who also call him “Tarzan Tico” – Tico being a familiar word for a Costa Rican. And he certainly plays up to the name, wearing a tattered pair of leopard-print shorts for his half-hour performances with Pocho.
A keen conservationist, he also offers boat tours, where he eagerly points out a variety of wildlife. But he only charges a few dollars to watch the breathtaking crocodile show, claiming he does not want to cash in on Pocho.
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From a story in the Costa Rica Tico Times.com 10/07/2009