• Costa Rica Real Estate

Throwback Thursday: Pocho the crocodile funeral

January 17, 2019

This article was originally published on Oct. 17, 2011

The final time Chito and Pocho took center stage seemed no less stirring, hard-to-believe and ridiculous than the act’s original premise – a crocodile and a human as best friends.

After two decades of performing together, Pocho the “domesticated” crocodile died last Tuesday of natural causes in his manmade swamp at Finca Las Tilapias, in the Caribbean-slope town of Siquirres. The croc’s owner, Gilberto Shedden, better known as “Chito,” said his partner was nearing 60 years old.

On Sunday – the day Pocho and Chito normally frolicked in the water for visitors – the village held a grand funeral for the huge reptile.

Chito placed the 5-meter, 450-kilo dead crocodile in a wagon and hitched it to a car that drove the duo around the town. Dozens of vehicles joined the motorcade. At least 50 mourners kept pace with the procession, while onlookers sprinted up to the cart to snap photos. By the time the tour ended, back at Finca Las Tilapias, some 300 people had shown up at the ranch.

“Our act was something very special,” Chito, 54, said. “Always people who didn’t know Pocho took something extraordinary from it.”

Chito found Pocho wounded and near death on the shore of the Parismina River, in Limón province, in 1989. The crocodile had been shot in the left eye, and Chito nursed it back to health. A decade later, an employee at the finca saw Chito swimming with Pocho, and told local media. The unusual pair became stars after their first show in the summer of 2000. The ranch kept a veterinarian and a biologist to check on the crocodile’s health. Pocho fed on 30 kilograms of fish and chicken a week.

Gilberto Sheedon with Pocho
Siquirres native Gilberto Sheedon, or Chito, became famous for his close friendship with an American crocodile named Pocho. The Tico Times

Large crowds gathered weekly around the artificial lake to watch Pocho and Chito, with the crocodile performing tricks such as winking, rolling over and allowing Chito to put his head inside the giant’s fang-lined mouth.

The memorial at Finca Las Tilapias recognized the croc’s importance to the community. Onlookers watched Chito give a passionate goodbye to Pocho, the reptilian half of an act that became the biggest tourist attraction in the small, muggy pueblo and picked up coverage from around the world.

The funeral certainly seemed like the biggest event Siquirres had seen in some time. Chito’s friends quoted Bible passages to the audience about loving animals. They dedicated songs to Pocho, and played videos of past performances and interviews with Chito.

“It was beautiful,” Siquirres native Xinia Mejía, 40, said. “At least here, we’ve never seen anything like this.”

Visitors from across the country came to observe the ceremony. Miguel Arias, 57, from San Carlos in northern Costa Rica, had never seen Chito and Pocho perform, but became interested after seeing a report on the news. Arias said he was stunned by the outpouring of support for the crocodile and the “beautiful” ceremony.

Funeral garb, however, was not required. Chito, dark-skinned, bald-headed and fit, dressed in the leopard-print loincloth and bandana he wore during his shows with Pocho. Many congregants wore T-shirts dedicated to Pocho’s memory. The shirts sold for $4 at Finca Las Tilapias, alongside mugs dedicated to Chito and Pocho and a selection of small wooden crocodiles.

Pocho’s carcass will be embalmed and placed on display at a museum at Finca Las Tilapias.

Skeptics may say the funeral was just a money-making charade, but Chito’s copious tears did not appear to be of the crocodile variety. He seemed to need the attention and support of the crowd to stay composed. While other guests took the microphone to speak about Pocho, Chito could be seen bawling in the arms of his wife, Olga, or leaning over the crocodile with tears on his cheeks.

When Chito moved front and center again, he seemed determined to keep the last show with his “brother” Pocho as momentous as past ones. The most peculiar highlight – one that seemed to condense Chito’s affection for Pocho and also his love for the limelight – came when he sang The Platters’ classic “The Great Pretender.” Chito wailed each lyric of the 1950s hit about denial to the fallen crocodile: “Oh yes I’m the great pretender / Pretending I’m doing well / My need is such I pretend too much / I’m lonely but no one can tell.”

As Chito and Pocho’s fame grew, there were those who suspected the croc would one day make “Chito finito” out of Shedden. Lolinda Mighty Hall, who grew up with Chito in Siquirres, remembered how fearful everyone was that the crocodile would turn on his trainer. Hall, 58, said over time they saw a genuine connection develop.

Other crocodiles later joined Pocho in Chito’s swamp. The question circulated throughout the afternoon of whether Chito would soon begin training the next Pocho.

The speculation reached Chito midway through the ceremony. Replace Pocho? Chito sucked in a deep breath.

“Pocho is Pocho, the only one,” Chito said, his voice cracking. “Much of the public and all the people of Siquirres responded to him. There is no more Pocho. He will be the only Pocho there ever was.”


This story was made possible thanks to The Tico Times 5 % Club. If only 5 percent our readers donated at least $2 a month, we’d have our operating costs covered and could focus on bringing you more original reporting from around Costa Rica.We work hard to keep our reporting independent and groundbreaking, but we can only do it with your help. Join The Tico Times 5% Club and help make stories like this one possible.

Support the Tico Times

Facebook Comments

You may be interested

‘A vision that demonstrates the capacity of Costa Rica’: New law will ban styrofoam
Costa Rica
183 views
Costa Rica
183 views

‘A vision that demonstrates the capacity of Costa Rica’: New law will ban styrofoam

Alejandro Zúñiga - July 17, 2019

Costa Rica's road to decarbonization and improved ecological sustainability took a significant leap forward as the country passed a law…

Wild Wednesday: Cleo’s recovery
Changemakers
129 views
Changemakers
129 views

Wild Wednesday: Cleo’s recovery

The Tico Times - July 17, 2019

Hola. My name is Cleo and I came to Sibu Sanctuary in June of this year. I was approximately 2…

USNS Comfort mission to arrive in Costa Rica this weekend
Costa Rica
1210 views
Costa Rica
1210 views

USNS Comfort mission to arrive in Costa Rica this weekend

Alejandro Zúñiga - July 16, 2019

Costa Rica will receive this weekend the USNS Comfort, a United States Navy hospital ship, as part of the vessel's…

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!