Animal Balance’s History on The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are the most famous, precious and diverse archipelago on the planet. It is comprised of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The Galapagos has 4 islands where humans, dogs and cats live; Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana. The remaining islands are strictly protected and only accessible by the Galapagos National Park Service and ABG.
The theory of biological evolution, Darwinism, was discovered and proven here. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), stated that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. His theory was proven over and over again at a time when ‘evolution’ was viewed as a preposterous idea.
As humans began to visit the islands, they brought cats, dogs, goats and other ‘domestic’ animals with them. As predicted by Darwin, the fittest of the species survived and thrived. Humans, cats and dogs are well developed predators and as such, their populations grew rapidly on the islands. Today over 25,000 people live on these 4 islands. A growing need to protect the islands was recognized and in 1959 the Galapagos Islands became a national park, tourists started arriving the following year. At the same time, large numbers of fishermen moved from the mainland to take advantage of the lucrative fishing and tourism opportunities. By the 1990’s and into 2000 there were violent clashes between those who wanted to protect the islands and those who wanted to live and make a profit off of the islands’ natural beauty and assets.
In 2002, Emma Clifford approached the Galapagos National Park Service and offered a free sterilization program for the cats and dogs, providing they stopped the use of Compound 1080, a rat poison, that can potentially kill all species. A year later, as the local tension had intensified, the Park finally agreed as they needed a positive project that would appeal to both sides. In 2003, Animal Balance held a feasibility study to assess the resources and to determine what was needed to establish a humane animal management program for cats and dogs. In 2004, we held our first sterilization clinic on Isabela Island. The fighting between the Park and the fishermen at that time had escalated, there were riots in the streets and the Isabela Park Service Director’s house was burned down. However, our animal clinics were bringing everyone in the community together, one dog at a time. The local people saw the changes happen and then very soon the neighboring island, San Cristobal, asked their Mayor if they too could have an Animal Balance clinic. As the fishermen, Park, Darwin Station, Mayors and communities’ saw their living situation and environment change for the better, the program became very popular with all sectors on all 4 islands.
We continued to expand the program and by 2007, we had sterilized over 80% of the cats and dogs who were living in the municipal areas. The fishing quotas were then reduced further by the international community and some fishermen/smugglers started to smuggle in and breed pure bred dogs as a way to make a living. Ironically, people that were taking responsibility for the existing cats and dogs then wanted the designer dogs that they were seeing on satellite TV, which had just been installed. Once that the Galapagos was connected via the web, people wanted what everyone else had and that very much reflected what was popular, for example, Dalmatians were introduced when the movie, 101 Dalmatians was re-released.
We helped set up a very strict management and control system for the dogs. All owners have to carry identification cards, much like a driver’s license, for each of their dogs. All dogs have to be kept under control and are not allowed to be loose. If picked up by ABG they are fined and this fine increases each time the dog is found loose. All dogs are returned sterilized. On the fourth pick up, the dog is rehomed.
From 2004 to 2008, Animal Balance deployed MASH teams three times per year, who carried in all the supplies. We often worked on multiple islands at the same time, to be more efficient with our resources. After 2008, we sent down 1 or 2 teams per year and as of 2010, just one team per year. We had trained the ABG vets in spay and neuter and always purchased extra supplies so that we could leave them for their use at smaller spay and neuter clinics. The program has been tremendously successful on the Galapagos Islands.
In 2002, we decided to help ALL the animals of the Galapagos Islands, without killing any, hence our tag line ‘Saving All Species’. We truly believe that if we create effective coalitions, respect one another and work together to employ logical and humane strategies, we can protect all species.
Animal Balance Strategy
Prior to 2004, there was no an animal management program for cats and dogs on the Galapagos Islands. The authorities were randomly poisoning dogs and cats with Compound 1080 placed in meat and put on street corners by the trash collectors. This indiscriminate approach has the potential to harm all species who could potentially ingest this substance and die, including children, who would often play in the sandy streets.
The Galapagos National Park Service and ABG are mandated to protect the biodiversity of these islands, while the Mayor of each Municipality is focused on increasing wealth, which often means they are at odds. Tensions were high between the community and authorities in 2003 and witnessing their community dogs dying slowly and painfully in the streets only compounded the situation.
Despite the poisonings, the cat and dog populations were flourishing and could potentially prey on the delicate native species that do not know to flee, or protect themselves, when a predator approaches. The native species needed protection and help, but the local people did not have the tools to allow them to take responsibility for their pets, in an effective way and the authorities were not aware of any other options, other than lethal methods.
A comprehensive humane animal management was needed to address the situation. We provided the strategy, funds, equipment, medicines and skilled medical personnel in 2004, collaborated with CIMEI (the former ABG) and the Galapagos National Park Service (PNG) and methodically targeted community after community until 80% of the cat and dog populations had been sterilized.
Phase 1 of the Galapagos Islands program (2003-2014) was to focus on each community on each island and work with them to understand the importance of spay/neuter and responsible animal ownership. As each community witnessed the benefits, they requested more sterilization clinics. This helped to create the social change that was needed in order to implement humane animal management program island-wide.
Phase 2 of the program (2014-2024) aims to maintain the existing program with ABG. To this effect, Animal Balance has signed a memorandum of understanding with ABG.
Phase 3 of the program was to introduce a comprehensive 5-year community based sterilization program for community cats, which was signed into effect in December 2016. To achieve this, 50 traps and 50 transfer cages have been sent to Santa Cruz ABG and also to San Cristobal ABG.
Phase 4 The DHPP vaccine was approved for import in March 2017. We will work with ABG vaccinate all dogs on the Galapagos Islands with the DHPP vaccine and sterilize the remaining in-tact dogs.