Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Tico Tarzan...a true Costa Rican Adventure!!
Imagine upon moving to a foreign country one of the first persons you meet is fondly known by all as ¨Tico Tarzan¨! Officially named Gilberto Shedden, this 50 year old Costa Rica native fisherman, better known to his friends as "Chito", has gained this nickname by training and playing with his good friend “Pocho”. I know you’re thinking it’s a cute little monkey or chimp, thus the title ¨Tarzan¨, but you would be VERY mistaken. Pocho is Chito´s fully grown, pet American Crocodile! Rolling the large reptile on its back, pushing his head of razor sharp teeth under and above the water, as well as tenderly kissing Pocho right on the nose, this is no average Tarzan by any means! Even for Chito, who grew up in the jungles of Costa Rica, their games are much more than a planned tourist trap spectacle, it is a clear demonstration of an unusual friendship established over time between a normally dangerous crocodile and an anything but normal human who saw one of God’s creatures in need.
The unusual friendship with Pocho began more than 17 years ago when Chito found the then two meter American Crocodile adrift in the Parismina River. Located deep in the many miles of winding and remote natural and artificial canals of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the hapless crocodile had received a bullet in the head and was in bad shape and unlikely to live. Chito, a character that truly defies description, who is well known for the soft spot in his heart for any and all animals, took the injured crocodile into his humble home and nursed him back to health over the next several months. Feeding him small pieces of chicken and gently stroking him and doctoring his wounds, Pocho was amazingly receptive to the attention and over the next several months a special bond was created between the two.
I’ll never forget the first time we went to Chito´s house to have a few ¨cervezas¨ and Chito wanted to introduce us to his new friend. With Chito, you never knew what to expect, but nonetheless, I was a bit taken aback when he opened a door and there was Pocho! As a ¨newbie¨ to Costa Rica and this small Caribbean Village on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, I kept thinking to myself, ¨Can this be normal?¨ Happily, it is not, but as one gets to know the eccentric Chito, it just really did not seem that odd either, as he always had a menagerie of wild animals that he was in the process of nursing back from the dead, with the hope of returning them to the wild!
Living in such a remote location, and being of humble means, a veterinarian was not in the cards for Chito or Pocho, so the entire care and recuperation of the crocodile fell on Chito himself. When it was thought Pocho had recovered sufficiently to survive on his own once again, Chito left his beloved Crocodile pet in a small nearby pond to carry out the many years he would hopefully have left in his life. But even to Chito´s surprise, the reptile chose to leave the water, following Chito back to his house and instead choosing to live in the canal in front of Chito´s property. Realizing that Pocho and he had apparently cemented a unique new friendship, daily visits and swimming sessions became part of their incredible bonding process and a source of much entertainment for the locals. Much to the dismay of family and friends, Chito continued to swim and play with the rapidly growing crocodile, teaching him a series of commands, including death rolls, tail slaps, back floats, belly rubs, swims and skims and even closing his eyes on cue!
As word spread of the crazy antics of Chito and Pocho, the entrepreneurial light bulb went off in Chito´s head. People began to naturally seek these two characters in the remote village of Barra de Parismina to see for themselves this incredible phenomenon, but this proved difficult due to the remote location of this small village. Now relocated to a small lake on Chito´s other farm on the outskirts of the town of Siquirres, this unlikely duo attracts multitudes of people, both National and International travelers weekly to experience for themselves the ¨Tico Tarzan Show¨. Dressed only in well worn shorts and his customary sweat band in place on his forehead, Chito enters the water with absolutely no safety equipment or even ambulance drivers on call, where he leads Pocho, and at times Pocho leads Chito, through a series of acrobatic stunts and amazing tricks, including the lifting and slapping of his enormous tail with great force on the water, as visitors look on at the gigantic reptile in amazement from the safety of the railing of the ¨typical¨ style lakeside restaurant or ¨soda¨.
It is estimated that Pocho is around 50 years old, weighs approximately 900 pounds and measures in the area of 4.5 meters. The American Crocodile is a species of crocodilian found primarily in Central America. It is the most widespread of the four species of crocodiles found on the entire American Continent. Populations occur from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern Mexico to South America and stretching as far as Peru and even Venezuela. There is a remnant population of about 2000 in Florida, United States. The habitat of the American crocodile consists largely of coastal areas, though they are quite common in canals and other inlets, so caution should be exercised when in these areas. The American crocodile is larger than some other crocodile species, with some males reaching lengths of 6.1 metres (20 ft) in Central and South America. Full grown adult males of this species have no natural predators and are capable of preying on virtually any animal unfortunate enough to be at the waters edge. It is estimated they can live up to 70 years in captivity, so Chito and Pocho may continue to entertain us for many years to come, barring any accidents that is!
Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.