You have to be careful around wildlife. There’s an old fable about a man who rescues a viper dying out in the snow. He takes it home and warms it up, and the snake repays his kindness by biting him. The moral of the story: you can’t change an animal’s nature.
Nevertheless, animals surprise us more often than we realize. When this farmer rescued a dangerous beast and brought it home, everybody thought he was crazy. But what he did next made his story known all over the world.
Gilberto ‘Chito’ Shedden was a pretty typical farmer and fisherman in Siqquires, Costa Rica. He did have a flair for showmanship, which brought him to sometimes give tours of the province.
In 1989, Chito was strolling along the banks of the Reventazón River. It was a peaceful day, but little did he realize that danger was lurking nearby.
He locked eyes with a fully-grown male crocodile, a fierce hunter with an iron jaw who wouldn’t shirk from going after humans from time to time. Was Chito the featured special on today’s menu?
Strangely, the croc didn’t move an inch. Chito overcame his initial dread and inspected the beast. On top of being fairly underweight, it was suffering from a serious head injury.
It appeared that someone shot the reptile in the head and left it for dead. It was most likely a cattle rancher trying to defend his herd from predators.
The crocodile didn’t appear the least bit hostile. Out of compassion, Chito loaded it into his boat and brought him home. His family wasn’t exactly thrilled, of course.
But Chito was determined to earn this beast’s trust. Whenever he got a chance, he went out to feed it fish and chicken, while also trying to get it used to petting and human contact.
Before too long, the crocodile became completely healthy and docile. Chito named it Pocho, after the Costa Rican term for ‘strong.’ They were practically inseparable.
He even managed to get his wife and daughter to warm up to Pocho by sticking his arms inside its mouth. It would be crazy to do with any other crocodile, but Pocho wouldn’t hurt a fly.
How was this possible? A nature photographer who met Pocho theorized that the head wound damaged the part of his brain that makes crocodiles aggressive toward other animals.
As Chito continued to train Pocho, word got out about the fisherman with the friendly pet crocodile. More and more people wanted to see it, but Chito was afraid of getting in trouble with the law.
Chito did the responsible thing and obtained a permit from the police to become Pocho’s legal guardian. That had to be the most interesting paperwork the office filled out that day!
Flickr / Doug Morris
Now that all the pieces were in place, Chito announced that he and Pocho were going to put on a show like no other. A large crowd gathered along the riverbank on the big day.
Diving right into the water with his scaly friend, Chito cycled through an amazing array of stunts. He swam circles around the croc, stuck his head underneath its legs, and even opened up its mouth for a peek inside.
The crowd went wild. Pocho and Chito were a sensation, and they even went on to star in their own documentary, ‘The Man Who Swims With Crocodiles.’
For 20 years, crowds from all over the globe came to watch Pocho and Chito perform. They always gasped when they saw Pocho’s size, but the beast never once harmed Chito.
Besides gaining local fame, Pocho became a true member of the Shedden family. Though Chito’s wife did get pretty mad when he admitted that he might love Pocho more than her!
YouTube / National Geographic
Even when there was no show happening, Chito would spend as much time as possible with the crocodile. There was nothing he enjoyed more than swimming and cuddling with his unusual pet.
Sadly, Pocho died of natural causes in 2011. When Chito held an elaborate funeral to honor his one-of-a-kind companion, throngs of fans and admirers turned up to pay their respects.
But Chito can always be proud of how far he came with Pocho, and what they accomplished together. Where the world saw a monster, he discovered a true friend.