Chito the Crocodile Whisperer
“I love all animals, especially ones that have suffered.” -Gilberto Shedden
In 2010, I became aware of a man in Costa Rica who had a pet 444 kg (980 lb) crocodile. Chito found the crocodile close to death in a river after a cattle farmer shot it in the left eye. Chito brought the 5 m (16 ft) crocodile home and named him Pocho, and then began a remarkable journey that would forever change his life. Chito, whose real name is Gilberto Shedden, was given his nickname by friends, who also call him Tarzan Tico.
Chito began to feed and nurse the then 68 kg (150 lb) crocodile back to health. It took six months of constant care and feeding Pocho chicken and fish before the crocodile’s health improved. Chito stayed with Pocho day and night, and even slept next to him. At one point during Pocho’s recovery, Chito left him in a lake near his house, and as he turned to walk away Pocho got out of the water and followed him home. Chito said, “That convinced me the crocodile could be tame.”
Chito also said, “I just wanted him to feel that somebody loved him, 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.”
When Chito first waded into the water with Pocho his family was so horrified they could not watch. He then showed their tricks to friends, one of which was getting the crocodile to close his eyes on command. His friends encouraged him to create a show, which he did, performing for tourists at a lake near his home in Sarapiqui. Chito and Pocho became instant celebrities and a top local tourist attraction.
American crocodiles that inhabit Central, North, and South America can live up to 70 years, and are believed to be less aggressive than their Nile and Australian counterparts. Pocho was around 50 when he died of natural causes on October 9, 2011. Pocho’s death ended a rare and remarkable friendship.
Chito once said, “He’s my friend, I don’t want to treat him like a slave or exploit him. I am happy because I rescued him and he is happy with me because he has everything he needs.”