Chito And Pocho

Chito always wanted to be friends with a crocodile. So when he found an injured crocodile on a lake near his house, he thought it was a great opportunity to get to know one another.

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GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

We want to get today's episode kicked off right with a story of one of the most amazing partnerships I've ever heard of. SNAP's Stephanie Foo takes us down south, way south, for a tale of friendship like you've never heard before.

STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: In Africa, crocodiles are considered to be the spirit of evil. In Central America, crocodiles are, on average, about 13 feet long and almost a thousand pounds. They can swim at up to 20 miles per hour before closing their mouths on their prey with the force of thousands of pounds per square inch - enough to crunch through bones like saltine crackers. Chito thought that was cute.

GILBERTO SHEDDEN: (Translated by Samuel Orozco) Everybody has a dog or a bird, but ever since I was little, I liked having unconventional things. I liked to do things that are a little more difficult. Crocs - it was something different to make harmony with them.

FOO: Chito, which is short for Giberto Shedden, lives in Siquirres, Costa Rica. He fished and acted as a tour guide there, and every time he saw a crocodile, he tried to interact with it.

SHEDDEN: We'd be out there sometimes in a boat, so I'd get close to them, perhaps give them a piece of chicken so I could get close and touch them.

FOO: The crocs generally weren't crazy about his presence, but they didn't hurt him.

SHEDDEN: I was always very careful with them. I respect animals and always maintained some order to not have problems. If a croc was upset, I couldn't get close. I tried to show them that we are friends and not bother them so they never try to bite me.

FOO: That's about as close as he ever got to hanging with the crocs until one morning, he noticed a crocodile sitting on the shore. He passed it by and kept fishing, but much later in the evening it was in exactly the same spot. He realized that something might be wrong with it, so he paddled up to the croc.

SHEDDEN: He was three meters long and I saw that he had an injury on his head - a bullet wound. Crocs eat the little cows in the area, so the owner of a cow shot him.

FOO: Chito felt sorry for the crocodile, so he called over a group of his friends and asked them to help him load the croc into a boat to take it home.

SHEDDEN: They were like no, no, no, let's go. Let's not take the croc. They were all scared. So I was like, let's get this croc. I want to cure it. He was a little irritated, but he didn't have much strength 'cause he was too skinny. I don't know how long he had been there. And we he put him on a boat and I brought him to my house.

FOO: Chito lives on the edge of a nearby lake, so they paddled to his house and brought the croc inside. Unsurprisingly, Chito's wife was not pleased when they dropped the crocodile in the living room.

SHEDDEN: My family didn't want for me to have it there. Everyone was scared since it was big and skinny and ugly. Everyone would say that I was crazy and asked how can I do this with this animal? It might eat my 1-year-old daughter and my family. I almost lost my family, my sister, my brother, because they wouldn't come here anymore. But I didn't want to take him to the river because he was injured, you know.

FOO: So Chito took the croc outside and let him lie on the banks of the lake in the daytime, and at night, he snuck out of the house and took care of the crocodile.

SHEDDEN: So I kept giving him and giving him food. At first he wouldn't eat it, but then he began to eat. I kept feeding him chicken until he started looking good. I would try to pet him so he would feel that I cared about him. When I would touch him, he would sometimes get a little irritated, so I kept on caressing and caressing him. And I would say, relax, relax. I want to be your friend. Behave nicely 'cause you won't be bothered anymore.

FOO: Over for the course of several weeks, the crocodile became accustomed to Chito's petting.

SHEDDEN: I would touch, at first, his tail, then the belly, till finally I touched his head. When I touched the head, that's when we had finally become friends.

FOO: Chito felt that he could trust his new pet now, who never seemed to get angry when he touched him. So he snuck his young daughter down to meet the crocodile.

SHEDDEN: I would show him to her and she would always touch it with me. Then I'd give him food and kiss him so he'd feel happy.

FOO: Eventually, Chito showed his wife how friendly the croc was. How he even allowed Chito to put his hands in his mouth. When she saw how docile the crocodile was, she fell in love with it too. They kept feeding him until he began to grow muscular and strong, or as they say in Costa Rica, Pocho.

SHEDDEN: I started calling him Pocho. Pocho, you're Pocho - yeah, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho - and he would come quickly, he would come running to me.

FOO: Chito started to go into the lake with Pocho. They'd roll around together and give each other hugs. And Chito would hitch rides on Pocho's back around the lake. It became clear that Pocho was better now and that it was time for him to go back into the wild.

SHEDDEN: So I decided to release him back in the river. We took him in the truck and then left him there. He wouldn't go back in, he would stay right there. So I brought him back home.

FOO: The two hung out every day until Chito fell ill and had to have a minor surgery. His doctor told him he'd be fine, but Chito could not move around for six months at the risk of getting an infection. But after just several weeks, Chito decided he missed his pet and he was going to get back into the lake and visit Pocho.

SHEDDEN: Everyone was scared. Since I had gone so long without going in the water, everyone thought the croc would react differently.

FOO: There is an old fable by Aesop where a farmer finds a viper freezing in the snow. The farmer takes the viper home, warms him up and saves his life. Once the viper feels better, he repays the farmer by biting him and killing him. The moral being that one cannot change an animal's nature - evil will always be evil. But Chito did not care about proverbs and warnings. He waded back out into the water and called to Pocho.

SHEDDEN: And he came to me and got close to my stomach and he stayed there with me. And then everyone applauded.

FOO: Pocho had actually missed Chito.

SHEDDEN: He didn't react like the people said. In fact, he was even friendlier than ever before.

FOO: That day, Pocho gave Chito extra cuddles. And that's when Chito knew that Pocho was more than just a crocodile acting on animal instincts wanting to be fed. Pocho truly loved Chito, and the feeling was mutual.

SHEDDEN: I had problems with my wife because I said that I loved the crocodile more than my wife. So my wife got a little mad.

FOO: For a year, Chito had kept Pocho under wraps because he didn't want everyone to think he was crazy, but you can't keep a pet crocodile a secret forever.

SHEDDEN: One time someone saw me hanging with Pocho and they called the TV press. People from all over the world started coming and filming it and making documentaries.

FOO: So Chito and Pocho started doing shows together, performing for tourists who came to see them.

SHEDDEN: I would say - Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho - and he would come. When a lot of people came, I'd go to the lake and I'd tell him, Pocho, we're going to do a good show. We're going to give the best show this week so that people can be happy. So we do shows with more action, more stuff, more circling - pretty dynamic.

FOO: In the shows, Chito rolled Pocho around on the water and put his own head between Pocho's four legs. He swam underneath Pocho and popped up underneath his head. They both looked like they were having all the fun in the world. And they did this for 20 years.

(APPLAUSE)

FOO: On a Sunday in October, 2011, Pocho and Chito put on one of their biggest shows yet.

SHEDDEN: That day Pocho did everything and Pocho did his thing really well.

FOO: The show was a huge success. Chito and Pocho went to sleep. The next day, Chito went out to say good morning to his friend.

SHEDDEN: So I called him, I said - Pocho, Pocho, Pocho - and he didn't move. And when I would call him, he always moved. So I saw him in the lake, I said Pocho, Pocho, Pocho, Pocho - and he didn't move. So I jumped in the water to see what was up and when I went to touch him, he was already cold. He was dead.

FOO: The whole town threw an enormous funeral for Pocho. After all, he was possibly the most beloved crocodile in the world.

SHEDDEN: I received letters from all over the world, everyone. People were sending me letters - sending their regards and consoling me, saying that God has a reason for everything. So many people came to see. I had written a song for him called "Pocho". A reggae for Pocho, it was kind of salsa-Calypso-Caribbean mix.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHITO SINGING)

FOO: Pocho is now stuffed and behind a glass case. He sits in a museum dedicated to him in Siquirres. The museum is near Chito's house and he visits Pocho often.

SHEDDEN: Pocho changed my life because - this part is difficult to talk about - because Pocho changed my life because when you work with animals, you get humans a lot easier. You can feel the emotion, the chemistry. Knowing people was easy. So now I can find a loving person but I cannot find another crocodile. Another crocodile like Pocho would be totally difficult.

FOO: But the American crocodile is endangered and Chito thinks it's important to keep communicating with crocodiles.

SHEDDEN: Something really important to have a croc. I think it's necessary to have one like that in the lake so people can understand that they should be cared for and protected.

FOO: And Chito found another crocodile near his house recently.

SHEDDEN: Oh, I would always see it in the river when I'd go fishing. I would bring him food and pet him.

FOO: He says the new croc likes him now, but their relationship is still new.

SHEDDEN: It's a little harder. There's a less closeness now, but with time, a little love, peace, patience for the animal - and then you can achieve a lot. I am on track, little by little. Hopefully in two years we can be good enough friends to do shows.

FOO: But Chito will never ever forget his old friend. Chito, what's your new crocodile's name?

SHEDDEN: His name is Pocho Dos.

WASHINGTON: Thank so much to Giberto Shedden, also known as Chito. And thanks as well to Samuel Orozco from Radio Bilingue for being the voice of Chito in this story. And thanks to the Tico Times for helping us out. That story was produced by Stephanie Foo, with sound design and translation by Renzo Gorrio. You're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Partners in Crime" episode. And when we return, we're going to desecrate a gravesite. We're going to start a band in one of the most dangerous places on earth. And we're going to stop someone's grandfather from getting blood all over his nice clean floor - when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Partners in Crime" episode continues. Stay tuned.

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