Recently Simon Cowell returned from a filming trip for Wildlife SOS in Belize. What he witnessed had a profound effect on him, and moved him to write the following to all lovers of wildlife and to appeal to everyone to help him support this worthwhile and heartbreaking cause…
…The second I met Vince and Cherie, I felt as though I’d known them forever. Or may be I just wished I had; their warmth and kindness had me at ‘hello’, as it were. Never before have I encountered two people so genuine, so happy and so very in love; it seemed as though positivity shone from them like the sun itself. Which, when I learnt what they were about to tell me, almost broke my heart.
With unswerving dedication, I have fought the good fight- as will I continue to, until the day I die- for my vocation, the Wildlife Aid Foundation, for over thirty years. Now, for the first time, I ask you to please join with me to help these people.
Let me explain…
Vince and Cherie set up ACES (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary), in 2006. ACES is the ONLY organisation in Belize that deals with crocodiles. Vince and Cherie’s work predominantly involves relocating ‘problem’ crocs. The Mayan people view crocodiles as ‘the underworld’ and so, terrified by the animals, will shoot them without hesitation. Either that, or, as a poor People, owing to a need for money, Locals taunt them with bait by way of a tourist attraction- the thrashing and snapping of their awesome jaws titillating Western sightseers.
Feeding wildlife is a highly contentious matter and an issue I find myself frequently embroiled in. Understanding the local people to be providers of food, over a period of time, the crocodiles, inevitably, have started to approach them more boldly, which has only exacerbated the situation.
ACES’s work, therefore, is vital for the people AND the crocodiles, keeping both safe.
In 2010, two children went missing- sadly not an unusual turn of events in such a wild country. Within weeks, the local folk had consulted their ‘Witch Doctors’, who accused ACES of feeding the two children to the crocodiles.
Over 100 villagers mounted a bus, armed with machetes and shot guns, travelled to Vince and Cherie’s house and burnt it to the ground.
Luckily Vince and Cherie weren’t home. But they lost everything. Their home, their possessions- wedding albums, clothes, jewellery, memories- all gone, forever.
And then the death threats started. Vince even received one on phone while we were there filming- he was visibly shaken to the core.
But their passion wasn’t dented. The couple now live in a hovel, the likes of which, trust me, you can’t even begin to imagine. And, come what may, their work continues.
Vince, a ‘croc wrangler’ did not set out to be as such. Not by any stretch. Actually, he was a waiter at the Play Boy Mansion, thoroughly immersed in the LA world. However, at 20 years old he had a profound change of heart and sought out a cave in the Rockies, where he took up residence and became, quite literally, at one with nature. A chance meeting with John Denver led to ‘the wild man’ building and maintaining properties for the musician, not to mention a lifelong friendship between the two men. John Denver’s guitar- presented as a gift to Vince by the country star’s family after John’s funeral- was lost in the fire.
Vince met Cherie, a Marine biologist working as a fisherwoman amid a host of burly men, and, despite her tiny frame, naturally blonde hair and delicate features, something of a tomboy. The two were soon married, but, tragically, never able to have children.
Although ACES was never their intention, Vince and Cherie planned and built their own home in Belize, simply with the notion of living out their years in the wildness of its nature. But over time, they found themselves watching their scaly neighbours and, fascinated by them, began to study them; their behaviours, their relationships, gaining a unique and deep understanding of their kind. Due to this understanding, when the locals had problems with crocodiles, Vince and Cherie became the first port of call. Students came to work with them, and the couples’ observations contributed to eminent scientific studies, internationally. ACES was founded and its entirely natural evolution was exponential. Perversely, the local people took exception to this. Ironic, considering it was ACES who so often came to THEIR rescue, by virtue of their work towards the crocodiles’.
Wildlife SOS took Vince and Cherie back to where their home had formerly stood. It was the first time Cherie had been there, since the fire. Watching her stoop to pick up fragments of her belongings, her watch, with tears in her- incredibly, still smiling- eyes, found in me emotions I can’t even begin to express, here.
Instantly, I was transported back to 1996, where I stood, bereft, amid the aftermath of the fire that had ravished my beloved Wildlife Aid. In that moment, feeling as beaten and broken as the remains that still choked and crackled before me, I had seriously considered calling it a day. But this passion of ours: mine, Cherie’s and Vince’s, is so powerful that we know we can never stop. In all honesty, however, I can’t say how I’d have reacted, were I to have received actual death threats in addition to the enormity of the situation I was in, back in ’96.
Vince and Cherie put all they had into ACES and have now lost everything- their past and their future. But they won’t give up.
All they need in order to rebuild their lives is a start-up fund of $20,000.
ACES website is: www.americancrocodilesanctuary.org
To donate, the direct link to their cause page is: http://www.causes.com/causes/362353-save-the-crocs or send your contributions to WAF marked ‘ACES’- we guarantee they will receive 100% of any funds you pledge. You can also make a via WAF by clicking here and choosing ACES Crocodile Rescue from the drop down list.
Although the majority of centres I visit while filming Wildlife SOS, like most charities, are ever in need of financial support, I consider this to be a MUST for anyone who truly cares.
I’m all too aware that I’m always asking you for something, but, after all these years of utterly devoted fundraising for the Wildlife Aid Foundation, I find myself so very deeply touched by the plight of this couple that I ask, PLEASE; you, your friends and family, any corporations you may know or be involved in, help these incredible people to get back on their feet.