Someone cleared a ten by fifteen foot area of shrubbery on the top
of Victoria’s Peak – and tonight the question is who gave the order.
First off, it’s illegal; as the highest point in Belize, Victoria Peak
in the cockscomb basin is a national monument – that means, by law, no
one is allowed to damage, destroy or remove...any kind of plant life. But someone
did, and they did it right at the summit point. And some fingers have pointed
to Sharon Matola, the Director of the Belize Zoo. A little over two weeks ago
on April the eighth, she organized a helicopter trip to the peak for some VIPs
including, Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega and noted big cat researcher
Alan Rabinowitz. Rabinowitz, you may recall is the American we featured in July
of last year who came to Belize doing jaguar research in 1978 and set up to
the world’s first jaguar reserve in the Cockscomb.
Matola wanted Rabinowitz and the team to get the view from above the
Cockscomb and so she arranged for Greg Sho, a guide who’s been up Victoria
Peak over 30 times to clear out an existing helicopter landing site that is
used by British forces. Her first choice for the site, which is called an HLS
– was the one on top of Victoria Peak, but when the British pilots advised
against that, she chose instead to use another site called HLS 219 – which
is a 4 hour trek from the summit. So today she told us she has no part in clearing
the area at the summit.
“As a real like supreme tree I wanted, I was praying please British
forces could we have a landing on Victoria Peak; fly around the Cockscomb, see
the Cockscomb, that’s also extremely important for Jaguar’s and
then land on HLS 200, let everyone get out – that’s the plan. Now
two days before Allen arrived, the British said we have to cancel the trip because
there is no way we can safely land at that HLS and have everybody get out, ‘Sharon
don’t you know if they go three metres in either direction they could
fall off the mountain.’ I said well you know what, we can tell them to
be real careful and my heart was breaking and I said wait a second, HLS 219,
I said I need you to clear this HLS and he totally understood kilometre 19,
he has been to Victoria Peak 35 times and he knows where that HLS is, I had
it written down; clear it and clearly it well so the helicopter can land there.
There was no instruction in that note to go to Victoria Peak.
I was definitely involved in the clearing of HLS kilometre 19. I wrote
the directive, re-clear, now we’re not clearing, we are re-clearing a
site that has been used repeatedly for landings. Now if Victoria Peak got cleared,
I had nothing to do with clearing that summit. Yes I had everything to do with
clearing HLS 219. The surprise to me is that anybody would clear the HLS at
Victoria Peak because you don’t need it clear to land there.”
Still, someone did clear it – and the one man who may have some
answers is Greg Sho, the tour guide Matola asked to do the clearing, but our
information says he is out on a tour and won’t be back until tomorrow.
The Victoria Peak monument is managed by the Audubon Society and that organization
sent out a release saying that the vegetation that was cleared is “lower
montane elfin shrubland” - which has been observed only on Victoria Peak
and no where else in the country. A release says it is slow to regenerate.