When you picture a “beloved family pet”, you probably think of something cute and cuddly—say a dog, a cat, or a guinea pig. Some may envision a less cuddly pet, like a bird or a turtle. But what about… a crocodile?? It doesn’t seem to make much sense, and yet one man in Costa Rica challenged everything we thought we knew about these “killer” predators. Here is the story of the 1,000-pound crocodile that became a beloved family pet!
Interacting with Crocodiles
Gilberto “Chito” Shedden, a fisherman in Costa Rica, was often friendly to the crocodiles he came across while he fished and served as a tour guide on the river. He offered them chicken, and even tried to touch them on occasion. In an interview years later, Chito explained, “Everybody has a dog or a bird, but ever since I was little, I liked having unconventional things. I liked to do things that are a little more difficult. Crocs – it was something different to make harmony with them.”
That’s the understatement of the year! The crocodiles living in Costa Rica’s rivers are around 13 feet long on average and can weigh 1,000 pounds! Of course, Chito understood the dangers of what he was doing, and explained that he respects animals and was very careful and mindful of their moods.
Bringing Home a Crocodile
It’s hard to say how serious Chito was about wanting such an unconventional pet, but one fateful morning in 1989 his life changed forever. As he went about his business on the river that day, he continually spotted a large, male crocodile laying upon the riverbank in the exact same spot. This was unusual behavior for a croc, and by nightfall, he decided to take a closer look.
The crocodile in question was at least 10-15 feet long! Most people at this point would have run as fast as possible in the opposite direction—but Chito isn’t most people. Instead, he moved closer to investigate the situation, soon realizing that the crocodile had been shot through his left eye (apparently by a cattle farmer, as crocodiles often hunt cows).
The crocodile only weighed around 150 pounds, which is devastatingly unhealthy for such a large animal. Chito saw that the crocodile was dying and wanted to help. It took quite a bit of persuasion, but the fisherman somehow convinced his friends to help him load the large croc into a boat, and then he took it home with him!
Caring for “Pocho” the Crocodile
Back at his house, Chito quickly jumped into action and began to carefully care for the crocodile by feeding him chicken and fish, and even re-teaching him how to eat. Chito was diligent with his new beastly charge, and even went as far as sneaking outside to sleep with the crocodile at night so that he wouldn’t be lonely! He later explained that he knew food and medicine would not be enough for the creature to make a full recovery. Chito believed that in order for the reptile to regain his will to live, he also needed love.
Like any good pet parent, Chito spent many sleepless nights with the crocodile, petting him and reassuring him that he was safe and would be okay. He even offered him hugs and kisses. Chito began calling the crocodile “Pocho”, which means strong.
True to his name, this miraculous crocodile began to heal and recover from his drastic injury. After having hid Pocho in a covered pond nearby for some time, Chito tried to release the now-much-heavier animal back into the wild—but Pocho refused to leave! In the end, Chito decided Pocho could stay as a member of his family. Yes, you read that right—this huge crocodile became a beloved family pet!
An Unlikely Friendship Between a Man and His Crocodile
As Chito spent more and more time with Pocho, the crocodile began to recognize and respond to his name, quickly swimming over whenever Chito called out to him. The two swam together nearly every day, and Chito taught him tricks, and continued to give him lots of loving hugs and kisses of course. Even as Pocho gained weight and returned to his massive and dangerous size of 1,000 pounds, Chito continued to love him.
Many years later, a visitor happened to come across Chito and Pocho playing together in the river near the house. As you can imagine, he was quite dumbfounded by what he saw. After sharing the news with local media, more people came to witness the astonishing pair and their unusual friendship. After that, visitors flocked to the river each week to see the two play and perform tricks together.
Although many feared that the croc would eventually turn on his human companion, Pocho lived peacefully with Chito and his family for over 20 years following his miraculous rescue and continued to perform weekly shows for visitors nearby. The two even stared in their own special on National Geographic, Touching the Dragon, as well as in Roger Horrocks’ 2014 documentary, Dragons Feast.
Saying Goodbye to Pocho
Pocho was nearly 60 years old when, on a sad day in October 2011, he quietly passed away of natural causes just outside Chito’s house. Instead of gathering for their performance that week, hundreds of friends and visitors joined together to honor the extraordinary crocodile with a beautiful funeral ceremony and procession. His body was embalmed and is now on display at his own museum, where Chito frequently goes to visit his beloved friend.
In an interview following Pocho’s death, Chito shared, “Pocho changed my life because when you work with animals, you get humans a lot easier. You can feel the emotion, the chemistry… I think it’s necessary to have one like that in the lake so people can understand that they should be cared for and protected.”
Pocho was truly a unique and special crocodile who will never be forgotten.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/AppleZoomZoom
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- Tico Times, Available here: https://ticotimes.net/2019/01/17/throwback-thursday-pocho-the-crocodile-funeral
- NPR, Available here: https://www.npr.org/2014/02/28/283934611/chito-and-pocho
- Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (1970) Lost Companions: Reflections on the Death of Pets