Hunters’ search and rescue team seeks corporate sponsorship

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Captain of the Hunters’ Search and Rescue Team Vallence Rambharat at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

THE Hunters’ Search and Rescue team is looking for a corporate sponsor to help defray costs for proper equipment to aid its members in traversing rugged forest terrain and rivers to rescue lost hikers and recover the bodies of crime victims.

In an interview on Thursday, team captain Vallence Rambharat said the group is in need of sponsorship to get the proper gear to carry out missions.

“It’s not as easy or simple as some people might think. Rope alone cost us $4,000 last year, then there are specially modified boots to repel the bite of poisonous snakes or stings from scorpions and a pair averages about $1,700,” he said.

He said the team is also in need of back packs, night-vision binoculars, proper life jackets, gloves and a drone for aerial video support.”

The team comprises 13 men and one woman who all give of their time and expertise voluntarily.

The team was formed by Rambharat and Ren Gopeesingh in February 2021 following a call by then police commissioner Gary Griffith for help from hunters to locate court clerk Andrea Bharat who was missing. Days later, her body was found by police, soldiers and the volunteer search and rescue group, down a precipice in the Heights of Aripo, east Trinidad.

“All of the work we do is voluntary, it’s a service to the people of our country. We are considering looking into asking for support from the Government to purchase equipment and gear, but for now, if we can find a corporate sponsor that would really be good.”

The team is divided into three regional sub-groups, one for north Trinidad, one for south and one for central.

Rambharat said in 2021, the team went on 36 specific missions. They rescued four people who were stranded in the forests and recovered 14 bodies, six of which were drowning victims.

Rambharat said drowning is a major cause for concern as many hikers are not aware of how quickly a stream can turn into a raging torrent of water if there is even moderate rainfall higher up the forest.

For this year, he said, the team plans to continue its volunteerism and strengthen its network and relationship with law enforcement and hikers’ groups.

Rambharat said it is a continuous learning process for him and his team.

He said from May-June searches became more purposeful and successful but the team continues to learn as they go on more missions.

The team leader said false alarms are one of the group’s greatest challenges. “Often times, the family (of someone said to be missing) holds the clues and answers to finding that person, especially those who go missing on purpose.”

The team has taken the position to hold off on searching for minors as they have attributed most disappearances to domestic issues that typically resolve themselves over time.

Team member Bissondath Seeram said, “When we locate a missing person who does not want to return home we use our discretion and do our best to convince them to return to their family. If it’s a child, that person, as a minor, has no other option but to go back home or to a legal guardian.”

Asked about how team members cope with the stress of coming across bodies during a mission, Rambharat said, “Most of our team members are emotionally strong and able to face death. Those of us who can’t, stay behind and provide support by conducting risk assessments and mission management.”