Pocho, Costa Rica’s Famous and Tourist-Friendly Croc, Dies

Pocho, a large american crocodile, lifts his one-eyed head above the muddy water.

Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

How do you write an obituary for a croc? Not any old croc, of course, but Pocho, a sextuagenarian American crocodile that became a famous tourist draw for vacationers traveling to or from the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica.

Alas, last week the five-meter-long (16 feet) crocodile passed away, ending a two-decade-long career performing for visitors to Centro Turístico Las Tilapias, north of Siquirres.

Pocho first appeared in this blog in my post of 10/05/2009—“Jungle Crocodile Safari gets you up close and personal in Costa Rica”—in which I described how Pocho and his sidekick, Gilberto ‘Chito’ Shedden, bonded after Chito first encountered the croc in 1992 after Pocho lay wounded and dying. (Pocho had been shot in the head by a farmer and thereafter lost the sight of one eye.)

Chito took Pocho in and nursed him to health. Pocho then refused to leave, goes the story as related by Chito. Like a stray dog, when released back to the wild, he supposedly followed Chito home.

What’s beyond dispute is that the level of trust between the two grew so strong that Chito developed a show in which he would swim and wrestle with Pocho, who he taught to do tricks. Visitors flocked. Their fame grew. Chito eventually added a restaurant, then cabins.

When Pocho died of natural causes last Sunday, Chito—never one to shy away from opportunity—hauled the dead reptile around Siquirres in the back of a pickup truck, attracting more than 300 people to the funeral, which was officiated by Chito while dressed in his trademark (and photogenic) leopard-skin loin-cloth and head-band.

Prayers to Pocho were offered. Songs were sung. Tears (crocodile tears?) were shed by Chito. Even videos of his legendary performances were shown, while T-shirts and mugs with Pocho’s image sold briskly.

The crocodile, of course, is too valuable to bury. He has been embalmed and will soon be displayed at Centro Turístico Las Tilapias, which is described in full on page 170 of the latest (eighth) edition of Moon Costa Rica Handbook.

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