An American couple in Belize struggled Tuesday to figure out their future, their dreams literally up in smoke after a mob of indigenous Mayans burned down their animal sanctuary in the belief the foreigners fed two missing children to crocodiles on their property.
Cherie and Vince Rose moved to the tiny Central American nation in 2004 to form a 36-acre sanctuary for two species of endangered crocodiles found in Belize–the American and Morelet’s crocodiles.
Bit by bit, their hope turned into reality. They built a two-story octagonal house that rested on stilts and reached 30 feet into the air. They constructed two smaller cottages to house researchers and students. They dug out two acres of canals for the crocodiles. They acquired two boats.
They called the place the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary.
Most of it vanished Sunday morning, when a throng of angry villagers from a settlement about 10 miles away torched the buildings on their property. A local psychic had told the villagers that the Americans had fed the two missing children to the 17 crocodiles at the sanctuary, police say.
The Roses were rescuing three crocodiles on a distant island at the time, so were not home to ward off the attack–or possibly suffer a gruesome fate.
“It was like something out of a Frankenstein movie,” Cherie Rose said Tuesday. “If we’d been home, they would have killed us. They said they were going to chop us up and feed us to the crocodiles.”
“We love what we do, and the adventure is just incredible,” said Cherie Rose, who is 44 and said she has a biology degree from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. “We do more in one day than some people do in a lifetime.
“We are going to stay in Belize. We are going to fight this. I’m not abandoning those crocodiles down there.”
Cherie and Vince Rose’s American Crocodile Education Sanctuary before and after Mayans attacked it.