April 21, 2006

Costa Rican minister goes missing in jungle

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rica's Energy and
Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez was missing on
Friday after disappearing on a trek through a jungle reserve,
officials said.

Rodriguez, 46, was out with a group of ministry employees
patrolling for poachers in the Corcovado National Park in
southern Costa Rica when he got ahead of his companions during
the walk back to camp on Thursday afternoon.

"When the group got to the camp he wasn't there, so they
immediately started to look for him," said ministry spokeswoman
Patricia Alpizar.

Other ministry employees joined the search on Friday along
with a group from Costa Rica's public security force.

Rodriguez is an avid outdoorsman and knows the Corcovado
area well, so officials are hopeful of finding him safe,
Alpizar said.

Costa Rica's lush, wildlife-filled National Parks are one
of its main attractions for tourists, the country's top source
of foreign exchange income. Hikers can easily get lost by
wandering onto the wrong path, however.

The virgin rain forest of Corcovado, near the border with
Panama, has been increasingly plagued by poachers who illegally
hunt jaguars and peccaries inside the boundaries of the 162
square mile national park.

The government, concerned about a drop in jaguar numbers,
has ramped up efforts to drive out poachers.