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US surfer loses leg in Tamarindo crocodile attack

UPDATED at 2:30 p.m. July 23

A U.S. tourist had his right leg amputated Friday afternoon after a crocodile attacked him near the Playa Grande estuary in Tamarindo, Guanacaste. The surfer, 59-year-old Jon Becker, also sustained minor injuries to his face and lost large quantities of blood. He remained in critical condition at the Enrique Baltodano Hospital in Liberia on Saturday afternoon and will be transferred to San José, according to friend and local business owner Joe Walsh.

“Jon has been back in surgery this morning,” Walsh said via message to The Tico Times Saturday afternoon. “They are transferring him to San Jose today. He is stable but lost the lower part of his right leg.”

Pat McNulty, a Tamarindo resident and supervisor of the beach’s lifeguard program, was at the scene when lifeguards helped Becker on shore Friday morning. He said a friend was walking with Becker near the estuary when the crocodile attacked and that the friend helped save Becker’s life by getting him free of the croc’s grasp.

McNulty and lifeguards then gave Becker immediate medical attention by putting a tourniquet on the wound and calling an ambulance.

“Everyone on the scene did an excellent job,” McNulty said via a phone call Saturday.

“The lifeguard program continues to be a necessary proponent to the town,” he added. “We’ve trained upwards of 50 people so at any given time there could be someone on the beach that could help.”

McNulty said that Becker’s family has come down from the U.S. to be with the Colorado-native who resides in Tamarindo.

“As I understand it, he’s doing slightly better but he’s still in serious stable condition,” McNulty said Saturday.

This is the third and most severe attack on a surfer near the estuary in the last three years. In March 2015 a surfer from Montreal was bitten on the foot and sustained minor injuries, and in 2013 a 7-foot croc scratched a Spanish surfer.

After the attack last March, the Tamarindo Development Association (ADI) pushed the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) to consider removing certain crocodiles from the river mouth. Because the estuary is part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park, a protected area, environmental regulations prohibit the removal of crocodiles without a study that shows there is overpopulation.

Immediately following today’s attack, the ADI requested another meeting with SINAC and police officials.

“Their response was very fast and very sufficient,” said Juan Carlos Cedros, the ADI’s vice president, “but this is a complicated subject and it won’t be solved in a day.”

SINAC agreed to bring in its crocodile specialist group to determine if there is a problem crocodile that should be relocated. There is no plan to remove any crocodiles at this time.

In the meantime, the ADI plans to place crocodile warning signs in English and Spanish between Tamarindo and Playa Grande.

The police agreed to meet with SINAC to step up enforcement against the illegal feeding of crocodiles, which biologists say makes the animals more aggressive. Police will also use a camera placed near the estuary to monitor anyone illegally interacting with the crocodiles.

Recommended: Costa Rica’s crocodile conundrum

SINAC officials warned that the crocodiles tend to leave the estuary in the early morning and late afternoon. Becker was attacked at around 7 a.m.

The development association is not the only group concerned about crocodile attacks. In 2014, the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotel Owners wrote an open letter to the Environment Ministry expressing concern over a growing number of crocodiles spotted on tourist beaches. Following Friday’s attack, the chamber’s president, Gustavo Araya, released another statement asking for population controls.

“I hope that two years after expressing my discontent about the lack of attention on this subject, after not assuming any responsibility and after arriving at this sad occurrence, that the respective government agencies will take action and not continue to ignore the problem,” Araya wrote.

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