Crocodiles are known reptilian predators, that have a fierce and violent reputation. What many people don’t know,
is, that if a croc isn’t hungry or threatened, they generally won’t go out of their way to attack anything or anyone.
However, the sheer power and strength, that these ancient dinosaurs are capable of, make people very wary. However,
not everyone is as afraid of crocodiles, as you may think, including Chito Shedden of Costa Rica. When Shedden found
a dying croc on the edge of a river bank, he did something, most people aren’t brave enough to do…
Crocodiles are found throughout the world, including North and South America, Australia, Africa and Asia. The croc
is the top reptilian predator, has a bite strength of 5,000 lbs per square inch, have been known to grow up to 16 ft
in length and if that’s not scaring you already, they can easily weigh over 1,000 lbs. It makes sense, why most people
would avoid contact with a crocodile, like the plague, but Shedden’s unique reaction to the croc, he found, makes for
one interesting story…
Chito Shedden is the local fisherman, who found the croc, which he named Poncho, on the Reventazón River. Chito is
not only a fisherman, but an amateur naturalist and tour guide form Limon Province, Costa Rica. When Chito found
Poncho on the banks of the river, he was on the verge of death. Instead of ignoring the predator, the fisherman
decided to take him home and nurse him back to health…
When Chito found Poncho, the croc was a skinny 150 lbs and it was clear, he wasn’t in a good position. When Chito
came closer, he realized, the poor creature had been shot in both the head, and the left eye, most likely by a local
cattle rancher trying to protect his herd. Although it was a severe injury, Chito didn’t have the heart to leave the
animal there to die. The danger in the air didn’t seem to influence Chito’s decision in helping the croc…
What Was It Going to Take?
Although the reptile was dangerously thin at only 150 lbs, he could still easily injure a human without much thought
or problems. Chito knew, he needed help, so he asked some friends of his to help lift the poor creature onto his boat,
so that he could take it home and nurture it. The plan was to get the crocodile back to a healthy state, so that he
could release it back into its natural habitat one day and so it was decided, his name would be Poncho, meaning strength.
It was going to be a long road to recovery, but both man and beast were willing to make it happen.
The Best Nurse
Poncho got the best nurse known to man, as Chito never left his side. He made sure to purchase medication to prevent
infection, until the wounds could heal on their own and he made sure to feed Poncho a diet made up of fish and chicken.
He didn’t stop there, however. Man and beast quickly grew to respect each other: perhaps a result of all the nights,
the two slept together side by side. A huge part of why Poncho was able to recover, was because of the tender, loving
care, that Chito was so willing to give. His empathy and compassion are, what truly saved this animal.
Over the next few months Chito fed Poncho by hand, even mimicking chewing motions in hopes of inspiring his new friend
to eat. Chito is convinced, the reptile needs his tender, loving care, in order to survive, stating, it’s, what he needs
to regain the will to live. Chito treated Poncho as a pet, reassuring the wild animal, that in fact the man loved him
and wanted him to win. It seems, as if Chito taught an animal, that was believed to be incapable of love, how to be
affectionate: the two were even known to embrace in hugs and kisses.
What Chito Gave Up
Perhaps the most intense part of this story has to do with what Chito gave up for the croc: his marriage. It’s sad,
but true: Chito’s marriage ended due to the relationship, he formed with the wild animal. His wife was unable to
understand the connection, they had formed, so she decided to leave. What’s surprising, is, if you ask Chito, how
he feels about this, he will tell you, he wasn’t sad, because he knew, there was something special about his new
Returning to the Wild
Chito followed his plan and when Poncho was strong and healthy enough to return to the wild, with the help of the
same friends he was loaded into the boat. They released him near where they had found him and the two parted ways.
Although sad, everyone knew, it was the right thing to do, especially Chito. When Chito woke up however, something
Home, Sweet Home
Instead of settling into the river, he had grown up in, Poncho followed Chito’s boat home and surprised him in the
morning. The croc was sleeping on his veranda and it was a marvelous sight to see. Chito realized, the croc made his
decision and so it was decided to move him into the lake on Chito’s land. In no time the two got even closer and
Poncho seemed to be loving his new lake.
A New Life
In time, Chito remarried and had a beautiful daughter, creating the family, he always dreamed of. It became obvious,
that the croc responded to his name and Chito began thinking, that Poncho could be trained even more. To ensure his
daughter’s safety, all precautions were taken and she wasn’t allowed near Poncho without her father around. After all,
you never know. As time went on, Poncho began to learn more and more every day…
A Long Process
Poncho wasn’t trained overnight. It took over 10 years of constant interaction with Chito for him to become more
playful and consistently respond to his touches. The two would swim together, suggesting, the personal time created
a unique bond between the two, that only they shared. It wasn’t the same, as with a dog, because Poncho had strong
predatory tendencies, that he slowly learned to set aside, when he interacted with his savior. So much so, that the
two eventually started to play with one another…
The wonderful relationship between the two began to spark the interest of tourists and locals alike. The pair were
such an interesting duo, that they now perform every Sunday right in their own backyard! What makes this story so
amazing, is the fact, that neither Chito, nor Poncho began the relationship with the idea of performing, but the
circumstances naturally created the opportunity. What’s even more special about their act, is, that it’s completely
natural for the two to effortlessly play with each other and anyone, who watches, can see the bond. It all started,
because Chito would swim in the lake every morning to call for his friend, who, every time and without fail, would
appear and playfully roll around with the man, who saved him…
As if their relationship and story couldn’t be any more heartwarming, the two made their own documentary, so that
the whole world could learn about their special bond. The film is perfectly titled “The Man, Who Swims With Crocodiles”.
There is speculation, that due to the injuries sustained by the gun shots Poncho had (in fact) suffered from brain
damage, which caused him to be less aggressive, than he was naturally supposed to be. The injuries could have affected
parts of the brain, making him more interested in human compassion and interaction. After all, how many crocodiles
will act, like Poncho?
Friends until the End
At best, crocodiles can live well up into their seventies. For Poncho, considering, what he went through, he was
lucky to have almost hit 50. The dynamic duo parted ways one last time on October 12, 2011, when Poncho passed due
to natural causes. Although gone, Poncho will never be forgotten, as Chito made sure, his funeral would be one to
remember. The public ceremony was the first of its kind and will go down in history, as the most formal and heartfilled
The story of these two friends is one to be remembered because of the kindness, compassion and empathy, that Chito
showed his wild friend. They created a bond, that is everlasting.