Police arrested two men — including a U.S. citizen — in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park last week during a ground mission to expel illegal hunters and gold miners from the renowned nature sanctuary. The suspect identified as a U.S. citizen had the last name Knight. The other man, identified with the last name Ruiz, was Costa Rican.
According to the Public Security Ministry, the men were caught in the park’s Ajugas River operating a large water pump. The water pumps are often used by more sophisticated mining operations to wash away land and uncover gold.
Authorities estimate that approximately 400 gold miners regularly enter Corcovado, which is widely considered to be one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
High gold prices and lax regulations have led to an influx of illegal miners and hunters into the park in the last several years. Hunting and mining has damaged the park’s territory and has had devastating effects on the local jaguar population.
The Environment Ministry has teamed up with law enforcement to fend off the invasion.
Both Knight and Ruiz were transferred to the prosecutor’s office in Golfito, but are now free pending an investigation. If charged with illegal gold mining, the men could face up to five years in prison.