Photo: Douglas Marín Ortega / ACAN-EFE
Photo: Douglas Marín Ortega / ACAN-EFE

QCOSTARICA – With not more than a few sticks, a net and a lot of courage, young and old from the village of Ortega, in the western part of Costa Rica, in the Guancaste province, kept alive the 150 year  oldtradition known as  the “lagarteada”, the catching of a (live) crocodile by hand.

The “lagarto” (lizard) as it is called by the people of this small community, this year fought a hard battle that lasted many hours, in temperature of over 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), until the brave men known as the “lagarteros” were able to catch and display it in the town square, in an activity attended by both locals and tourists.

“People can be happy, its been 25 to 30 years since we caught one this size,” Alvaro Cascante, president of the Ortega Development Association (Asociación de Desarrollo de Ortega) and one of the most experienced “lagarteros”, told  EFE, covering the annual event.

This year’s catch was 4.5 meters (15 feet) long and weighing over 300 kgs (660 lbs).

The hunt starts in the early hours in this small community in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, and ends by noon. This year, however, the hunt lasted to almost five in the afternoon, as the reptile was able to escape capture at least four times before it was finally corralled.

The hunt occurs every Good Friday, as tradition dictates. The popular belief is that on this day the healing power of the reptile increases, according to Cascante. For decades, the people of Ortega have been hunting the crocodile, where it is then exhibited to one and all in the community to know the beast, and sacrificed for its meat skin, but in particular its fat.

The inhabitants of Ortega attribute the properties of the animal’s fat to heal wounds, cough, flu, bronchitis, combat diabetes, asthma, virtually any evil.

But, before you cry out for the animal, the tradition today is to return the animal to its habitat, unharmed.

The crocodile is the symbol of this community surrounded by cane plantations (caña) and three rivers, Las Palmas, Cañas and Tempisque rivers, that are home for these carnivorous animals.

“We’re teaching the young people to continue (the tradition). We hope in God that this tradition never dies because it gives identity to this town,” said Cascante.

So, how do the “lagarteros” catch the crocodile?

Under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment (Ministerio de Ambiente), after the crocodile is caught with the net, the men surround it and push it to the riverbank, where they then muzzle it, tie its paws and then blindfolded (to decrease the animals stress).

The animal is then raised over their shoulders, put on a truck and carried in to town, where the brave men are greeted and cheered. The next day (today) the animal is released back to where it was captured.

“This year it cost us, but we did it,” said 32 year old Alexander Padilla, one whose job is to plunge into the water and free the net from tangling on rocks or tree branches.


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