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Rancher casts doubt that Gabby Petito's boyfriend is in nature reserve as search is scaled back

An experienced rancher has cast doubt that Gabby Petito's boyfriend is in an alligator infested nature reserve where authorities have been searching.

Florida cattle rancher Alan McEwen, who lives outside the Carlton Reserve, has spent 30 years exploring the area and said it's not somewhere humans can easily live.

'There's no surviving out here, I don't know how to say it,' he told Fox News. 

McEwen has been assisting police in the search for 23-year-old Laundrie, who was reported missing by his parents on September 17 - two days after he was declared a person of interest in Petito's disappearance. 

The couple had spent weeks travelling across the country in a van and recording their adventures online before Petito vanished. Her remains were found inside a Wyoming national park on September 19.

An experienced rancher has cast doubt that Gabby Petito's boyfriend Brian Laundrie (pictured) is in an alligator infested nature reserve where authorities have been searching. Pictured: Laundrie speaks to Utah police during a traffic stop 13 days before Petito's disappearance

Gabby Petito disappeared while on a cross country road trip with Laundrie. Her remains were found on September 19

Florida cattle rancher Alan McEwen, who lives outside the Carlton Reserve (pictured), has spent 30 years exploring the area and said it's not somewhere humans can easily live. 'There's no surviving out here, I don't know how to say it,' he said [File photo]

Whether the avid hiker would have been able to survive in the 25,000-acre swamp-like reserve for weeks has been the subject of much speculation. Pictured: Reporters at the entrance to the Carlton Reserve [File photo]

Laundrie's parents suggested he might have headed to the nature reserve, which he was known to visit and which is about 15 miles from his home.

Whether the avid hiker would have been able to survive in the 25,000-acre swamp-like reserve for weeks has been the subject of much speculation.  

'I've been in the woods in and out all my life… I have learned a lot in my life, and one thing I know is no one is gonna survive out there for two weeks on foot,' McEwen told Fox.

In the nearly two weeks since Laundrie is thought to have entered the reserve, heavy rainfall has flooded the area with waist-deep water.   

'Unless he's got a butt like a duck and can float, he's not in there,' McEwen said.

The rancher also noted the dangers posed by alligators, mosquitos and other animals in the reserve, which is home to panthers, black bears, wild boar and lethal snakes.

The terrain is also treacherous, according to McEwen, who said the thick brush makes it easy for even experienced outdoorsmen to accidentally step into a ditch or off a ledge.

However, McEwen believes it's unlikely Laundrie would have died in the reserve, saying his body would have been found by now. 

'Anything dead you find in the woods, you're gonna look up, you're gonna see buzzards flying like crazy,' he said. 

'No buzzards, no body is my theory. And I haven't seen any buzzards flying.'

McEwen's assessment came as Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the North Port Police, announced that the department was to scale back its search for Laundrie.

'The FBI is now leading the search. I'm told, It will be scaled back and targeted based on intelligence. Hopefully, water will lower in areas hard to currently access,' he told Fox News. 

Over the weekend, new dispatch audio emerged showing that Utah police were told Laundrie had hit Petito prior to being pulled over on August 12.  

The audio appears to contradict earlier reports that the responding officers in Moab City, Utah were unaware of a call from a witness who claimed to have seen Laundrie slapping Petito in their white Ford transit van before driving off. 

'RP (reporting party) states seeing a male hit a female, domestic,' the dispatcher told police at around 4.38pm local time, according to the audio, first obtained by Fox 13. 'He got into a white Ford Transit van, has a black ladder on the back, Florida plate.'

An officer asks for further information regarding the witness, and is again told that Petito had allegedly been hit. 

'Phone number is [redacted], name's [redacted],' the dispatcher responds at 4:42 p.m. 'I’m not sure [inaudible], but the female who got hit, they both, the male and the female, both got into the van and headed north.'  

The new information comes as the Moab Police Department announced an independent probe on Thursday into the officers' handing of the alleged domestic dispute about a month before Petito was found dead. 

Neither police nor city officials have said whether the responding officers were aware they were dealing with a potential domestic violence incident when they pulled the couple over. 

But they treated Petito as the primary aggressor in bodycam footage of the August 12 incident, after Laundrie was seen to have wounds on his face. 

New dispatch audio indicates that the Moab City, Utah police officers who pulled over Gabby Petito (right) and her fiance Brian Laundrie on August 12 may have been aware that a witness had alleged seeing Laundrie slap Petito, but did not arrest neither. The police stop was recorded on the officers' body cameras (pictured) 

Utah law requires cops to make an arrest or issue a citation if they believe an incident of domestic violence has taken place. 

Neither Petito nor Laundrie were arrested. They were instead separated for the night in an attempt to calm the situation down, before being allowed to continue on their way.  

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