BELIZE AUDUBON SOCIETY CLOSES SAINT HERMAN’S CAVE AND RESPONDS TO SHOOTING IN NATIONAL PARK
March 06, 2008

The Belize Audubon Society has announced the closure of Saint Herman’s Cave at the Blue Hole National Hole. The closure is as a result of two rocks collapsing from the ceiling within the cave.

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“This is due to two rocks that have collapse in the cave system and these rocks are approximately four hundred to five hundred pounds each. After an assessment by the Institute of Archeology they deemed it to be a safety hazard and because of this Belize Audubon Society has decided to close Saint Herman’s Cave. However, the Saint Herman’s Blue Hole remains open and also other features that people enjoy, they can continue to enjoy that. For now cave is close and we hope to have some remedial action and have the cave open again and once the Institute of Archeology has assessed those corrections and deemed it safe we will reopen the cave.”

Thompson said that both co-managements of the park, the Belize Audubon Society and the Forest Department did not know about the condition of the rocks in side the cave prior to their collapse.

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“What happened is that the rocks were originally connected to the ceiling of the cave and for some reason they collapse. We do not know the reason for this and as we noticed it, it became a concern for us for safety and that is when we asked the Institute of Archeology to come in and assess it. When they did come in they recommended that we close the cave; but we acted as soon as we saw the situation.”

Arturo Cantun – Love Fm reporter

“When is the cave going to be accessible to tourists and Belizeans?”

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“For right now we cannot say what is going to be the time frame but as soon as the Institute of Archeology has deemed it safe after they have assessed the corrective actions have been made, but I encourage people who have planned a trip to Saint Herman’s cave to still continue on their trip as there are many other features they can enjoy there at the park.”

Belize Audubon Society has also responded to a shooting incident that occurred last week while they were conducting a patrol in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“It is a very unfortunate and we must say an isolated incident. On Tuesday February the 26th, the park wardens along with the Police from the Hopkins Substation went on a night patrol. Regularly when we go on night patrols we will take B-D-F Police and Forest Department (officers). So this was a night patrol since we had suspected some illegal hunting in the park which is a protected area, and this really restricts hunting within the protected area. So they were in the patrol and while they were in the patrol they encountered, an illegal hunter and it is reported that the hunter had a shot gun and when the police ordered the hunter to stop he turn around and pointed the gun at the patrol team and the police reported that he has no other choice but to protect the lives of the patrol team and shoot the hunter.”

The farmer is Jose Oh from the Stann Creek district. Oh was hit in the chest and was taken to the Southern Regional Hospital for treatment. After recovering from his injury, he was formally arrested yesterday on charges of Illegal Entry and Illegal Hunting under the National Protected Areas System Act. Oh was also charged with Possession of an Unlicensed Firearm and Ammunition and Aggravated Assault. Thompson explained this is the not the first time Oh was found within the park.

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“We have a process that we normally go through when we have incursions in our protected areas. At times we warn that it is a protected area, what are the laws, and release them; sometimes we have to arrest them. Our wardens most of them are special constables and they are legally able to arrest people. This is really an unfortunate and isolated incident.”

Arturo Cantun – Love Fm reporter

“Normally when you find these fishermen in these protected areas, are they only fishing or looking for something else?”

Tanya Williams Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager - Belize Audubon Society

“It’s not only fishermen, we also have illegal incursions. There is a variety of things that occur, sometimes we have fishing, illegal hunting, illegal logging, some come to cut xate, there is a variety of things – we have had major incidents especially with night hunters.”

Thompson said that both the Audubon Society and the forest department will continue to conduct patrols of protected areas. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a protected area in 1986.