Jungle know-how, connect with nature helped kids survive 40-day Amazon ordeal

Jungle know-how, connect with nature helped kids survive 40-day Amazon ordeal


BOGOTA: Lost for 40 days in the Colombian Amazon, four Indigenous children survived eating seeds, roots and plants they knew were edible thanks to their upbringing. And it was in part down to the local knowledge of Indigenous adults involved in the search alongside Colombian troops that they were ultimately found alive.

The four siblings, ages 1 to 13, survived a small plane crash on May 1 that took the lives of the pilot, their mother and a third adult. The “children of the bush”, as their grandfather called them, survived eating yucca flour that was aboard the doomed plane, and scavenging from relief parcels dropped by search helicopters. But they also ate seeds, fruits, roots and plants that they identified as edible from their upbringing in the Amazon region, Luis Acosta of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), said. “We have a particular connection to nature,” Javier Betancourt, another ONIC leader, said. “The world needs this kind of special relation with nature, to favour those like the Indigenous who live in the jungle and take care of it.”

The siblings were recuperating at a military hospital in Bogota, the capital, and were said to be in good health and spirits Saturday, when they were visited by President Gustavo Petro and other officials. Defence minister Ivan Velsquez praised the oldest, Lesly Mucutuy, 13, for ensuring the survival of the group. “We have to recognise not only her courage, but also her leadership,” he said. “It was because of her that the three little siblings were able to survive by her side, with her care, with her knowledge of the jungle.” Lesly’s 9-year-old sister, Soleiny, “talks a lot,” said Astrid Caceres, director of thechild welfare agency. Tien, 5, is asking for books to read, while the 1-year-old “has a tranquility to work with the nurses that you cannot imagine”, he added.

Manuel Ranoque, father of the two youngest children, said on Sunday that the eldest Lesly told him their mother was alive for about four days after the plane crashed. Ranoque said before she died, the mother likely would have told them: “go away”, apparently asking them to leave the wreckage site to survive. He provided no more details.

Over 80 volunteers from Indigenous territories joined around 100 soldiers in what was dubbed “Operation Hope”. While soldiers planned operational details, Indigenous knowledge was used to adapt to the jungle conditions. Army helicopters broadcast recordings of the kids’ grandmother telling them in the Indigenous Huitoto language to stay put in one spot. Two of the kids’ birthdays passed during their time in the jungle. Tien turned 5 and the youngest, Cristin, turned 1. “The celebration of the birthdays is overdue,” Cacere said.