Pocho, the “domesticated” Costa Rican crocodile that gained international attention for a weekly show he performed with owner Gilberto Sheeden, died Tuesday at Finca Las Tilapias in the Caribbean-slope town of Siquirres. Olga Valle, Sheeden’s wife, said the nearly 1,000-pound croc died a natural death at age 50. A funeral will be held for Pocho on Sunday at 1 p.m.
“All of the people in the village have offered their condolences and assistance,” Valle said.
On past Sundays, Pocho and “Chito,” as Sheeden was better known, performed a show for visitors in a 100-square-meter artificial lake at Finca Las Tilapias. Chito, 54, declared the one-eyed crocodile “domesticated.” He could command Pocho to do tricks such as winking its one good eye, lifting its head and tail out of the water, rolling over and permitting Chito to stick his head inside the massive reptile’s maw.
Chito found the 5-meter-long crocodile near death on the shore of the Parismina River, in the Limón province, 17 years ago. The crocodile had been shot in the left eye. Chito and several friends loaded the animal into a boat and took him to Siquirres, where Pocho was nursed back to health. Chito even slept with the crocodile during its recovery.
After an employee saw Chito swimming with Pocho one day, word of the duo’s friendship spread. In July 2000, Costa Rica’s Channel 7 filmed the unusual pair. Chito and Pocho became stars, receiving attention as far as the United States, Chile and the United Kingdom.
The Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry allowed Chito to keep the crocodile as long as they could monitor it. Chito worked with a veterinarian and a biologist and fed Pocho 30 kilograms of fish and chicken a week.
Chito never imagined the fame that would come from the unique friendship. All he wanted was an animal companion. A sign on his ranch emphasized that relationship: “Chito and Pocho are best friends.”
“I just wanted him to feel that someone loved him, that not all humans are bad,” Chito told The Tico Times in 2007. “I love all animals, especially ones that have suffered.”