Surfer Loses Lower Leg After Crocodile Attack—Humans Had Been Likely Feeding It

Petr Svab

An American surfer was attacked by a crocodile while crossing a river in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, on July 22. Doctors had to amputate his lower leg, local media reported.

Yet the surfer, identified as 59-year-old Jonathan Becker, may have people, rather than the animal, to blame for his injury—at least in part.

Becker was crossing the river Playa Grande's estuary early on Friday morning. The estuary divides Tamarindo's Pacific coast beaches and surfers often cross it.

The Playa Grande estuary in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. (Screenshot of Google Earth)
The Playa Grande estuary in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. (Screenshot of Google Earth)

It was around 7:10 a.m. when Becker was attacked. He fought the beast and managed to free himself from its grasp. A friend of a local lifeguard had helped fight off the beast, the Tico Times reported.

Becker managed to get to the shore, but his leg was badly mangled and he had additional wounds on his face and body. He was transported to a hospital in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, about 80 miles away. He lost a lot of blood during transit. In the end, doctors had to amputate his right leg below knee, according to La Nación.

Locals have told media that crocodiles have been seen at the estuary for years, but there's a perception that the beasts are becoming more aggressive towards people.

Since 2013, there were at least 14 crocodile attacks in Costa Rica, six of them this year, according to CrocBITE, a website gathering data on crocodile attacks globally.

While that may not initially seem like a lot, the country is half the size of Ohio. In addition to that, American Crocodiles are not known for perceiving humans as prey.

CrocBITE said those were just the cases they were able to dig up and the numbers may be incomplete. Based on those cases alone, Costa Rica ranks third among Central and South American countries in terms of crocodile attacks.

A commenter on The Tico Times article on the Friday incident said he started to see crocodiles in the lower part of the estuary in the past 18 months because local guides and boat taxi operators feed them to create a show for tourists.

Police have agreed to pay more attention to the illegal feeding of crocodiles and biologists say feeding them makes the beasts more aggressive, according to the report.

Another commenter said he's seen crocs in the area for years, but agreed the feeding needs to stop.

"It's completely irresponsible to contribute to their presence so close to the main beach at Tamarindo and Playa Grande," wrote the commenter, who identified himself as Carl Hancock.

Hancock referred to his Facebook pictures from two years ago, which showed crocodiles in the river.

Photographer Leonardo Pinero captured photos of the aftermath of the croc attack and posted them on his Facebook page "Surf with Leo."

Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.