San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

7-foot crocodile that attacked surfer in Costa Rica was 'just confused,' says victim

Last week, surfer Adán Rivera was attacked by a crocodile on Tamarindo Beach, and he lived to tell the story. But that story has a different protagonist than you might expect – the reptile.

“The crocodile had as much a right to be there as I did, if not more,” Rivera said in an interview with The Tico Times a few days after the incident. He seemed miffed that there had been a question of whether authorities would remove the animal, and recounted the incident as if it were merely a temporary setback.

The attack took place on the morning of Oct. 13, when the experienced Spanish surfer was teaching his girlfriend, Natali Latite, how to ride a wave at the popular beach town in northwestern Guanacaste Province. In chest-deep water, Rivera propelled Latite into an oncoming swell and waited for her to swim back. That was when Latite noticed the crocodile and panicked.

“She yelled to me, and I turned and saw the animal,” Rivera said. “I began trying to sneak away without drawing attention, but the croc saw me, grabbed my finger and scratched my shoulder a bit. Then it swam off.”

That’s a very low-key version of the story The Tico Times heard from surf instructor Luis Sequeira, an apparent witness to the attack, who also claimed to have saved Rivera by scaring the crocodile away. But Rivera says he never saw or spoke with Sequeira. Two Swiss surfers whom Sequeira also claims to have saved have not responded to requests for an interview.

Regardless, an injured Rivera checked in to Clínica San Gabriel in Villa Real, where Dr. Gabriel Muñoz patched him up and told to stay out of the water to avoid infection. Rivera and Latite then switched hotels and stuck to land tours, waiting for Muñoz’s permission to surf again. That’s when Rivera became outspoken on the crocodile’s right to inhabit its own territory. The apparent crocodile aficionado also speculated as to why the animal might have attacked, downplaying the danger.

“It wasn’t that big, maybe [6.5 feet] long and not very heavy,” Rivera said. I think it was young and didn’t have much experience hunting. … It was just confused.”

Rivera had the croc’s back on another issue as well: He was outraged that the reptile had been demonized in the press. Local conservationists echoed this concern, stressing that the beach off Tamarindo is actually part of the Las Baulas National Marine Park, a protected zone that falls within the Tempisque Conservation Area.

“The important thing for people to recognize is that this is the crocodile’s home,” said Cristian Díaz, an outreach coordinator with the Leatherback Trust, a nonprofit organization that helps maintain the marine park.

On top of the groundswell of support for the crocodile, the fact that it has not returned to the area suggests that a removal will not be possible or necessary, said Mauricio Méndez, assistant director of the Tempisque Conservation Area. Still, Méndez advises people to steer clear of the scaly, floating reptiles – of which there are about 60 in Tamarindo’s estuary. Crocodile sightings should be reported to the National System of Conservation Areas for monitoring purposes, whether or not the reptile is behaving aggressively. If crocs show up in public areas often, they may need to be captured and removed as preventative measure, he said.

Sorry, Rivera. 

croc victims

Adán Rivera, left, and Natali Latite, middle, survived a crocodile attack last week in Tamarindo. Dr. Gabriel Muñoz, right, treated Rivera’s wounds. Courtesy of Gabriel Muñoz 

Tico Times reporter Corey Kane contributed to this story.

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