Tour guide teaches 13-year-old daughter how to hand-feed crocodiles (photos)

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Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero
Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero

A tour guide who hand-feeds giant crocodiles is passing on his death-defying skills to his teenage daughter.

Jason Vargas Aguero, 36, wows tourists in Costa Rica by dropping meals into the predator's gaping jaws with his hands just inches away. Text and images: Barcroft Media.

Now he is teaching 13-year-old daughter Jimena Vargas the basics - even though the job nearly cost him his life when one crocodile savaged his arm and dragged him into the river.

Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero
Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero

He said: "I am only giving her some advice so that if one day she wants to do it, she will know how.

"I've explained a lot to her and told her she has to know their behaviour, to respect them and to be very, very careful.

"But I hope she doesn't follow in my footsteps. I don't want her to risk her life like her dad has for many years."

Jason and his family have run the Crocodile Man Tour for the last 15 years and the business has helped bring them out of poverty.

Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero
Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero

The trips run along a 4km stretch of the Tárcoles River in Costa Rica where thousands of American crocodiles live and breed.

They are among the biggest reptiles in the world and can grow up to 17ft long and weigh just under 2000lb.

But Jason - who says the job requires 'bravery, help from God and a little craziness' - never wanted to do anything else.

"I do it because it gives me a thrill, lots of adrenaline," he said.

"I grew up in Tarcoles, close to the river, and so all my life I've seen them and shared with them."

He added: "The first time feeding them was terrifying, I'm not going to lie.

"The adrenaline rush was massive and it took me a year to get used to them and to trust them a little bit more."

Over the years, Jason has come to know them very well and has given them names based on their characteristics.

One female with a larger rear has been named Jennifer Lopez while some of the more aggressive males are named after American presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.

"Believe it or not, every crocodile has its own personality," added Jason. "Some are more aggressive then others."

"That time it worked but let's hope I won't have to do it again. I don't want to have to go back into the water with my hand inside its mouth and 68 teeth and 2000lb of pressure on my arm."

Jason tries to steer clear of crocs when they are protecting their babies or very hungry as they are more dangerous.

To attract them he slaps the water with hunks of chicken to create noise and vibrations.

Tour guide hand feeds crocodile Jason Vargas Aguero

"But to me the more aggressive they are the better, as it makes a better show."

However, it was one of these larger, more aggressive males that almost killed him in an accident five years ago.

Instead of taking the raw chicken he was dangling above its mouth it leapt forward and clamped its jaws onto his arm.

"He dragged me into the water and I had to fight him," said Jason who spent months in hospital recovering.

"After five minutes I found a branch on which I could sit. I put my finger in his eye and he let go.

He then leaves the boat to feed them from the muddy bank, sometimes sinking up to his knees in the soft sediment - which makes him extra vulnerable.

"You have to be very, very careful," added Jason, whose older brother Diego is the general manager of the company.

"When you look at the crocodiles it's like a cat, like a tiger. They can smell adrenaline if you're scared."

Despite the dangers of Jason's job, his daughter Jimena is determined to follow in his potentially treacherous footsteps.

Jason added: "Crocodiles fascinate my daughter, she is crazy about them.

"Always when they mention it at school she tells her friends 'my dad is the Crocodile Man'. She is always talking about my work and she's very proud of me."

Jason and his family believe she will eventually grow out of her obsession and develop other ambitions.

But for now the hard-working student is adamant she will work on the river with him.

She said: "Crocodiles interest me a lot. My dad doesn't like it, he would prefer it if I looked for my own career.

"But to me, giving food to an animal is something very nice and interesting. It's like helping them to eat."

She added: "I have seen when my dad gives them food and heard how it sounds when it shuts its mouth.

"I sometimes imagine if it doesn't take it, it will then eat the person. It just will pull you in and swallow you. That makes me very scared.

"But not just anybody can do this job; you have to be very brave."

Jason's is one of several stories which appears in new Animal Planet series' Preposterous Pets, which starts on Thursday April 3 at 8pm.

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