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Caracol park rangers found after 2-day disappearance

By Marion Ali
Assistant Editor

The country breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday afternoon, when official reports confirmed that two park rangers who had gone missing two days earlier in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, specifically from the Caracol Archaeological Site, were found alive and unharmed, bringing to an end aerial, drone and foot searches.

Aside from being slightly dehydrated, Park Manager Luis Ramirez and Park Ranger Elroy Villanueva were not targets of any ambush by unwelcome visitors, as was the fear when they went missing.
The National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) reported that the men left the base on Monday afternoon and took a trail in an area familiar to them, in search of Pacaya – a wild celery-type vegetable the rangers use for seasoning their food. When they did not return by the following morning, their fellow NICH colleagues raised the alarm to Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers stationed at the outpost at Caracol.

The BDF dispatched search teams from their Valentin and Caballo conservation posts to look for the missing men. Those teams were later joined by search teams from the Belizario post and park rangers from the Forestry Department, along with the Police Department’s K9 unit. Altogether, 60 soldiers, aside from policemen, search dogs, and other NICH rangers were deployed to look for the men. In addition, drones were deployed and an aerial search was commissioned on Wednesday; even conservation personnel in Peten, Guatemala were notified of the men’s disappearance.

The search efforts were hindered a bit by unfavourable weather conditions in densely wooded jungle, but sometime after midday on Wednesday, the men were located 1.5 miles northwest of the camp and 2.5 miles east of the western border with Guatemala. They were taken to La Loma Luz Hospital for examination and rehydration after being exposed on Monday and Tuesday to the elements. Their health was said to be in fair condition, despite the fact that they had not eaten for the two days they were lost and slept in cold, rainy conditions in the open. Particular concerns were raised over Ramirez’ health because he is a diabetic. The rangers reported that when night closed in on them in torrential rains, they got disoriented, missed the trail where they should have exited, and lost their way back. They said they built a thatch structure to shelter from the rain the first night, but the rain poured right through it, preventing them from sleeping.

Relatives of the two rangers had voiced concerns over the length of period that had passed before they were informed of their loved ones’ disappearance. NICH stuck to its position, however, that the men’s families were alerted well within the 24-hour time frame set out by the existing NICH policy.

Public Relations Officer for NICH, Neil Hall said publicly on Tuesday that there are situations when rangers do venture off and have been found within a few hours. This is the reason why there is a 24-hour time span before any alarm is given to their families, so as not to create any unnecessary worry.
Hall did say, however, that this particular incident has prompted NICH officials to review the policy to “tweak it in a way that it will be a kinder policy to those involved.”

The particular archaeological site where the men went missing probably added to the panic that spread because of its close proximity to Guatemala, and because it was where a few days after Independence Day in 2014, Special Tourism Police Constable Danny Conorquie, only 20 at the time, was shot and killed, presumably by angry Guatemalan ranchers whose horses and agricultural stocks were seized after having been caught in Belizean territory.

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