San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

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.

Contact Lindsay Fendt at

Log in to comment

catharina Harwell

it is just a matter of time before a croc cruises out into the surf in front of the car park where hundreds of kids and adults are swimming, surfing and or taking surf lessons…… a croc’s life worth a human child’s life? no it is not…is a croc’s life worth destroying a thriving, healthy economy, no it is not!! simple solution is to relocate them far away from the Tamarindo estuary. Croc’s do not have predators other than humans and they are multiplying daily…it is just a matter of time before someone is killed and an economy, lifestyle and tourism base will be destroyed due to a crocodile.

0 0

Anyone who knows the area also know that estuary. I own a home there and have paddled across it hundreds of times with Jon, my friend. We have always understood crocs to be in the estuary, but they have, until recently, been much further up in the estuary, and not near the river mouth. However, recently, in the past year to 18 months the water taxi drivers and estuary guides have decided that they need to give the tourists a good show, so they have been feeding them near the river mouth. The crocs have now become accustomed to humans when previously they were not. No, the crocs are not to blame. Once again the blam rests with humans. But that does not solve the problem of the proximity and fearfulness of crocs in a tourist area. Leave the crocs alone? I think not. They need to be relocated and reaccustomed to hunting for their food, not fed. As for the guides? They need to stop feeding the crocs, and when they do, they need to be prosecuted and fined.

0 0
Carl Hancock

I beg to differ. The crocs haven’t only been present at the mouth of the estuary in the past 12-18 months. I’ve personally seen them at the mouth of the estuary numerous times over the course of many extended stays in the Tamarindo area.

Here’s a photograph from over 2 years ago of a nice sized croc hanging out at the mouth of the estuary:

Here is another photograph from the same day of a different croc just up from the mouth of the estuary swimming along the mangroves:

I’ve seen crocs in the Tamarindo Estuary right next to, or not far from, the river mouth that separates Playa Grande and the main Tamarindo beach every time I’ve visited that part of the beach and the estuary over the years.

Just because you cannot see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They are most definitely there and they have been there far longer than 12-18 months.

You are correct that there should be no tolerance for boat taxi drivers and estuary guides attracting the crocs by feeding them. It’s completely irresponsible to contribute to their presence so close to the main beach at Tamarindo and Playa Grande.

BUT that isn’t going to stop the crocs from appearing now and then and interacting with humans who may happen to be crossing the estuary when they show up. Humans aren’t at fault in every instance. Wildlife is wildlife. It’s an estuary. Crocs live in it. They have no problems hanging out in a river mouth. Especially during the rainy season or after heavy rain when the sale water is more diluted and more attractive to the Crocs.

Cracking down on boat taxi drivers and guides feeding the Crocs will help with nuisance animals. But it will not entirely prevent a situation like this from occurring.

This is a perfect example of why no matter how comfortable I am while in Tamarindo I refuse to paddle or swim across the estuary between Tamarindo to Playa Grande. I know there are Crocs in the estuary and I don’t care how clear the coast appears to be, Crocs are masters at stealth. It’s how they survive. It’s how they hunt. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

I’ll take a taxi boat. Or drive. I won’t swim or paddle across the estuary on a surfboard and that decision isn’t based on this or any previous incidents. It’s simply based on the fact I know that Crocs are present in that environment and this estuary in particular.

0 0

Carl – I don’t necessarily disagree. Yes, they have always been in the estuary, and at times they come down near the river mouth, but they have rarely been aggressive to humans (yes, they have been seen in the lineup, and there have been some minor attacks which have been attributed to reasons other than simple aggressiveness), and there has never been an attack like this. My point is that because more recently the local guides/water taxi drivers/fishermen have been feeding them for the benefit of tourists who want to see a crocodile, they have become more accustomed to humans, and much more aggressive. Many of the native Ticos will tell you that they used to feel comfortable swimming and playing in the estuary, but that has changed because the guides/water taxi drivers/fishermen have been feeding them. Many years ago the owners of the Crocodillo bakery used to feed them as an attraction, but it became a problem when the crocs became aggressive, so they stopped, and for many many years the problems of crocs and humans interacting ceased to exist. That is exactly what has happened now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the crocs. They are simply doing what they have been programmed to do. The problem is people.

0 0
Fernando Gerdano

Geri Buchholz, you are an idiot right? The guy comes to CR as a tourist, relax, surf and have a vacation. He for sure was NOT properly warned and he didn’t know (how could he?) about the danger in the area. “Leave the crocs alone” ??? You are saying he is there to bother the crocs? You don’t have any idea what the problem is there do you? Have you ever been to Costa Rica? Is there one life guard or warnings in over 800 miles of coast, north and south?

0 0
fred rit

Fernando Gerrano , first of all this is a comment that Gerry Buchholz made , it’s his own opinion , and there’s no need to insult , if you don’t agree with him .
I lived in Cost Rica 4 years of my life in the early 90′ , surfed my heart out mostly by myself up and down the pacific coast , back then there were no lifeguards any where , nor crocs warning signs , but I was fully aware of the risk , especially when surfing near rivermouths , it is well known to anybody that crocodiles inhabit the waterways of central american countries ,including Costa Rica , and at 59 years of age he should have known better .
You can’t expect local authorities to baby sit thousands of tourists that come to CR to enjoy its beautiful coastline and a little of common sense will go a long way …

0 0
fred rit

crocodiles are beautiful creatures , they belong there , they play an important role in the ecosystem ,they are harmless unless you enter their territory , so , instead of ” relocating ” crocs from the estuary put warning signs and LEAVE EM ALONE .

0 0

You have no idea what you are talking about.

0 0
Geri Buchholz

Leave the crocs alone. If you don’t want to risk getting bit, then swim/surf elsewhere. Yes the restaurants should quit feeding them. Leave nature alone, soon we won’t have anymore to enjoy.

0 0
Dennis Pete Peterson

“…expressing concern over a growing number of crocodiles spotted on tourist beaches.”

Completely wrong! There are too many tourists spotted along the natural habitats of the crocodiles. Damn… can’t you give nature a break?! Must it always be about tourists and making money?

0 0

Dennis – That is exactly the problem. Money and humans. Let’s feed the crocs for a great show! Jon is not a tourist. He is very much a local, and very much an environmentalist. Before you judge, find out the true facts.

0 0