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Girls Survive Encounters With Jaguars, Snakes in Amazonian Adventure

May 19, 1995

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) _ Two girls lost in the dark Amazon jungle after their uncle died spent a month foraging for berries and evading jaguars, crocodiles and poisonous snakes before being rescued by miners.

The parents of 13-year-old Bertina Domingo and her 9-year-old sister, Bernadette, had given them up for dead after they failed to return from what should have been a short trip through the dense forest.

On Thursday, as the girls lay in a Georgetown hospital covered in angry red mosquito bites, gifts poured in from people touched by their pluck and the government declared them national heroines.

``We respect them for being able to survive that ordeal,″ said Vibert De Souza, minister of Indian affairs.

It began with the Easter holiday, when schools were closed and the girls’ uncle decided to take to see their family farm, about an hour from their home through the jungle on foot.

The girls were no stranger to the Amazon. They belong to the Wapishiana, an Amazon Indian tribe. They left their home in Apoteri, an Amazon village about 200 miles south of the capital Georgetown, carrying a box of matches, two hammocks and machetes.

At some point during their trek, the uncle lost his way. When the three didn’t return, police and local residents tried in vain to track them.

Speaking to reporters from their beds in St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital on Thursday, the girls said they couldn’t say when their uncle died, only that they left home April 7, the Friday before Palm Sunday.

In broken English, they described watching him grow thin and become weak. He may have died of the same strain of malaria that Bernadette is suffering from, the phalsiparum strain, which can kill within days if not treated.

Left to fend for themselves, the girls hacked their way through the forest, losing track of time. They staved off hunger with berries and other wild fruits and, occasionally, a feast of fish.

Bernadette said they cooked the fish over the flames of the wax-like gum that comes from the Haiwa, a type of tree. They also used the gum as candles to light their way through the dark forest.

Bertina, who is being treated for dysentery she got from drinking creek water, said the most frightening moment was when a jaguar, called a bush tiger locally, came charging at them.

The girls ran to scramble up a tree, but Bernadette stumbled and fell.

``I tell she to climb up quick,″ Bertina said. ``We come down from the tree only when the tiger went away.″

At one point, they narrowly missed being rescued, Bernadette said.

``We walk and we hear an engine and I tell she, `Hear the pork knocker (small gold miner) engine, let me walk up quick.″

But the noise faded away before she could get to the vehicle.

Officials estimate help finally came 31 days later, when the girls happened upon some miners, who cared for them for a week before bringing them to Georgetown last Friday.

Their adventure has touched this nation of 700,000 people. Gifts of money and clothing poured into the hospital Thursday. And Guyana Airways Corp. donated two tickets to reunite the children with their parents, who were still in Apoteri.

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