What’s the most dangerous pet you’ve ever had? Whatever it is, it sure doesn’t even come close to a five-meter, 500-kilogram crocodile!
Yet, this is exactly the pet this Costa Rica man, Gilberto Shedden, ended up with. He swam with the gigantic and scary-looking crocodile called Pocho in the river everyday – for over 20 years.
Shedden, a fisherman, tour guide, and naturalist from Siquirres, Limón Province, Costa Rica, had found Pocho dying on the banks of the local Reventazón River, in 1989. Upon closer examination, he discovered that the crocodile had been shot in the head through the left eye (as it turns out, by a local cattle farmer, enraged by the animal preying on his herd of cows).
Shedden took the crocodile home in his boat. He decided to bring him back to health.
For six months, Shedden fed the crocodile 30 kg (66 lb) of fish and chicken a week, and even slept with it at night in his home. To encourage the crocodile to eat, he also simulated the chewing of food with his mouth, giving it kisses and hugs while talking to it and petting it. Shedden later stated his belief that giving the animal food alone would not have helped it recover, and that “the crocodile needed my love to regain the will to live”.
He named the crocodile Pocho. To be able to own and raise Pocho legally, Shedden had to obtain the necessary wildlife permits from Costa Rican authorities. Until that happened, he hid the crocodile in a concealed pond with a thick overhead canopy of trees deep in a nearby forest.
After Pocho’s health improved, Shedden released him in a nearby river as he wanted to return him into the wild. However, when he woke up next morning, the man found the crocodile had followed him home and was sleeping on his veranda.
Shedden decided to allow Pocho to stay. From then on, the crocodile lived in the water outside his home, and was considered a member of his family, alongside Shedden’s second wife and daughter. (His first wife had left him because he was spending too much time with the crocodile.)
For more than twenty years, Shedden swam – mostly at night – with the crocodile in the river outside his home, talking and playing with Pocho while hugging, kissing and caressing him. He even trained the reptile to respond to its own name being called.
For more than a decade, Shedden and Pocho performed a weekly act for tourists from around the world in a 100 m2 (1,100 sq ft) artificial lake at Finca Las Tilapias in his hometown of Siquirres, Costa Rica. In the video documentary ‘The Man Who Swims With Crocodiles,’ South African filmmaker Roger Horrocks captured the pair shortly before Pocho’s death. He speculated that the gunshot wound to Pocho’s head might have damaged the crocodile’s brain, changing the usual instinctive behavior of the crocodile as a result. Noting examples where humans had been attacked by their reptilian pets even after a decade or more of close ownership, the filmmaker felt that Shedden’s life was in danger every time he stepped into the water with the crocodile. That said, Shedden stated that “After two or three years, something could happen, maybe… but after 23 years of loving each other, nothing has ever happened, so I don’t think so.”
No, they were just too close to each other for that kind of thing to happen. Consider this, for example: one of Pocho’s behaviors was to rush at Shedden with his mouth open when he entered the water. Before getting too close him, the crocodile closed his mouth and allowed a kiss on his snout instead. A perfect relationship.
Pocho died of natural causes in the water outside Shedden’s home in Siquirres on 12 October 2011. A public funeral was held for the crocodile, attended by friends and admirers. Shedden sang to the crocodile whilst holding its ‘hand’. Pocho’s taxidermied remains are on permanent display behind glass in the Siquirres town museum.
Shedden is currently working with a new crocodile, named Pocho II. The man had frequently encountered the crocodile on the river near his house while fishing and had brought the crocodile food, while the animal allowed him to pet it. However, the prospects of long-term success are pretty uncertain, as the circumstances are not the same as Shedden’s relationship with the original Pocho.
And indeed, Pocho was probably a once-in-a-lifetime gift, but he was certainly very well-deserved! Good bye old friend.