Villagers Gone Mad?
Crocodile Sanctuary in Punta Gorda Burnt by Angry Villagers
It has been over a week now that two children, 9-year-old Onelia Rash and 11-year-old Benjamin Rash from San Marcos Village in the Toledo District have been missing and the worst is feared for them and their disappearance has caused uproar in Punta Gorda Town.
Villagers from San Marcos feel the police have been casually ignoring them - and that bitterness culminated on Sunday, September 5, when a home was burnt down. According to sources an angry mob of armed villagers showed up outside the PG police station demanding the police to go and search an American couple’s home in the Water Hole Area, the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES). Police didn't give in to the demands and shortly after the home was on fire.
The house was set on fire by an angry mob who believed that the owners Vince and Cherie Rose were holding the children hostage at their premises; this information was given to the villagers by a local fortune teller (oracle) unto police.
Luckily the owners of ACES were out of PG and in San Pedro at the request of the Belize Forest Department the team were rescuing three problem crocs, and meeting with top Belize tourism officials discussing the prospect of creating an American Crocodile sanctuary on the island.
“My whole life is ruined and so is some of Toledo’s tourism now. The Maya community should be ashamed of itself,” commented Vince Rose to Channel 5. “They burned the wrong man’s house down and destroyed a future entity for their own Toledo District.”
After the fire, police intercepted the mob, took control of their bus and their arms which included machetes and rifles and detained the still enraged group at the PG station. The men were detained until around noon yesterday and then released without charge. Police say a special team is investigating.
A press release by ACES stated that the Rose’s two story home that included a laboratory and nursery for baby crocs that homed a baby American Crocodile was to be flown to Chicago to the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, Ill. USA for the first ever animal exchange program between Belize and the USA. Over $2,500 in vet supplies that were recently donated for a new humane society that Cherie, along with other locals was working on in Punta Gorda were also lost. “This one wrongful incident has effected and hurt many innocent people and animals,” added Cherie in the release.
Also destroyed by the fire were two cabañas where visiting guests and research students would stay. Vince and Cherie are now homeless and do not have anything to their name. “Our lives have been threatened if we return to Punta Gorda,” she said. “We are not sure how to handle the situation, but the villagers and the country of Belize need to be held accountable,” stressed Rose.
Seeking help from the United States Embassy in Belize proved to be fruitless. “They just told us what it will cost to replace our passports,” Vince grumbled.
There were 17 crocodiles housed at ACES which is next to the house that was on fire. None of them escaped but reports are that one was shot and one was hacked with a machete. The physical damage to the structure is estimated at one million dollars - it was not insured. And having seen the damage Rose said he plans to move the crocodiles to San Pedro - where he will set up a mini sanctuary if he can find financing. But even as the uproar on all sides increases - the most worrying aspect of the case is that the children are still missing. Police say they were selling fruits for their family when they went missing on Monday, August 30.
Vince Rose mentioned to Channel 5 that he would be taking legal action against the Mayan Community and they have also sent several press releases to both national and international media. Social media sites including facebook.com and belizeforums.com are buzzing with discussions about the ACES tragedy, including CNN who posted the story on their home page and has scheduled an interview with the Rose’s.
It is sad to say that even though the Mayan Community took matters on their hand based on a so called fortune teller and have left two persons homeless, the children are still missing. Police say that they have over 100 persons looking for kids - but so far they have not been found and there are no leads.
Vince Rose – a croc behaviorist and Cherie Chenot Rose – Biologist lost everything on the fire. Those of you who wish to make a kind contribution can do so at:
International wiring account number for donations
Belize Bank # 630-1-1-10130
Account# Vince & Cherie Rose Fire Victim Account