Animal Balance in the Galapagos
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2004:
SAN FRANCISCO–Violent confrontations between fishers
hellbent on exploiting the marine life of Galapagos National Park and
Marine Reserve reignited repeatedly in the first half of 2004–except
when Animal Balance was there.
For six weeks, from mid-April to late May, Animal Balance
sterilized, vaccinated, and gave parasite treatment to dogs and
cats, both pets and ferals, on Isabela Island, the largest and
most populated of the Galapagos chain.
The work seemed to bring the warring factions together. The
trouble stopped just as Animal Balance arrived, and again erupted
almost as soon as the Animal Balance volunteers went home.
Former San Francisco SPCA feral cat program coordinator Emma
Clifford conceived and directed the Animal Balance project, with
veterinary help led by Operation Catnip founder Julie Levy of the
University of Florida at Gainesville.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society provided transportation
to the remote islands. Patrolling the Galapagos Marine Reserve since
2001 at invitation of the Galapagos National Park Service, the Sea
Shepherds have often been between the embattled Galapagos National
Park Service conservation staff and the irate fishers–and at odds
with the Ecuadoran Navy, whose senior officers tend to see their
mission as defending the fishing industry, not marine life.
“Our relationship with the Ecuadoran Navy has been hostile
since 2001,” said Watson, “when we documented an admiral accepting
a bribe to release a poaching vessel in the marine reserve. The
admiral was dismissed from the service.”
Clifford and Levy did not see themselves in the roles of peacemakers.
“We were lucky,” Clifford told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I have never
worked so darned hard, or had to deal with so many problems, or had
such an amazing, super intense experience in my life.”
Levy used similar words.
“I am happy to tell you that it was a great success,”
Clifford declared, reciting the numbers.
The CIMEI, the inter-institutional committeeee for the
control and management of introduced species, estimated from an
early April 2004 survey that between Puerto Villamil municipality and
the highlands of the island, there were about 150 cats and 320 dogs
in residence. Eleven cats and 10 dogs were already sterilized.
Animal Balance sterilized 44 tomcats and 37 queens, along with 240
The dog population consisted mostly of males. Animal Balance
injected 98 with the Neutersol chemosterilant, surgically castrated
65, and performed 77 dog spays.
“We believe that about 72% of the cats and dogs are now
sterilized,” Clifford summarized, “including 78% of the dogs and
61% of the cats.
Animal Balance had expected to be dealing mainly with feral animals.
“We were surprised,” Levy told Cindy Swirko of The New York
Times. “We brought traps, and were going to do feral cat and dog
trapping. But there are actually not large numbers of feral animals.
We had to regroup. Instead of trapping at night, we started riding
around in trucks in the daytime, going to people’s houses and
talking to them to pick up their dogs and cats. That was unexpected.
The cats and dogs are companions, so it is very difficult to enforce
eradication,” as environmentalists have urged.
“Even more important than the numbers,” Clifford emphasized
to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “was the change of attitude in the community.
Many local people told us that they were astonished that Animal
Balance had changed people’s minds in such a short time, whereas the
Park Service had been trying for 60-plus years with little success.”
“We carried out the project in a very positive way,’
Clifford said, “always saying hello to everyone, and hanging out
with local people, not being too pushy. People in the village are
now walking their sterilized dogs on Animal Balance leashes that have
microchip numbers on their collars, and are giving their dogs food,
water, shelter, and even love!
“We had dog training classes, mural competitions at the
local school that depicted all animals living in harmony, ‘best
guardian’ competitons, and lots of fiestas. Animal Balance now
needs to keep the momentum going,” Clifford assessed, “so I am
proposing a humane education campaign with the municipality, local
restaurants, and schools.
“The Sea Shepherd folks were great. Some even helped us
round up dogs, clean poop, and foster and find homes for orphaned
kittens,” Clifford said. “It was a terrific exchange between the
marine conservation folks and the humane movement folks. We all
learned an immense amount and of course made friends in the process.”
The wars resume
But Clifford had barely returned home to San Francisco when
all hell broke loose again.
“The Galapagos National Park and the Darwin Research Station
on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos are under attack by a mob of
angry fishers,” Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson e-mailed on the
evening of May 28.
“The fishers have threatened to kidnap and possibly injure or
kill Lonesome George, the last surviving member of one of the
sub-species of giant land tortoise,” Watson said.
“The crew of the Farley Mowat at anchor in Admiralty Bay have
joined the Galapagos Park rangers at barbed wire barricades erected
at the park office entrances. Another group of Sea Shepherds have
been sent to guard Lonesome George, who resides at the park.
“Last night the fishers rioted in Puerto Ayora and forced the
closure of the one gas station on the island,” Watson added. “Sea
Shepherd crew member Ross Wursthorne of Florida was recognized and
attacked. Fortunately Ross was on a bicycle and managed to escape
although the fishermen ripped his shirt from his back. He suffered
“The fishermen are dissatisfied with the quota they received
of four million sea cucumbers,” Watson explained. “This quota was
given earlier in May despite the scientists advising that no quota
should be allocated due to the diminishment of the sea cucumber
populations of the Galapagos.”
Concessions to the fishers by Ecuadoran environment minister
Fabian Valdivielso only briefly interrupted the siege.
As the fishers’ disruption of the community continued, Santa
Cruz residents rallied by former Galapagos National Park director
Eliecer Cruz led a June 4 counter-demonstration.
“They marched to the gate of the National Park, where they
were halted by police and marines,” recounted Watson. “Behind the
marines, fishers yelled and brandished clubs and set automobile
tires ablaze. Sea Shepherd cameraman Ross Wursthorne was struck in
the groin by a papaya as he attempted to film the fishers, who kept
to the background as their wives stood on the front lines, hurling
“After an hour,” Watson continued, “the police ordered the
counter-strikers to disperse, saying that there were marines in the
park and they were beginning to move the fishers out. An hour later,
the fishers were burning more tires, and the police had vanished. A
truckload of beer and and supplies entered the park unimpeded by
police, and the fishers settled in to celebrate their possession of
the park,” sharing the beer and a barbeque with the troops.
Said Watson, “The police reported that they had entered the
park and were in position to disperse the rioting fishers when they
received an order from the President of Ecuador,” Gustavo Noboa
Bajarano, “to stand down.”
Fishers by then controlled the National Park offices on four islands,
according to Watson.
“All park employees have been forced out, and the tortoise
breeding centers on Isabela and Santa Cruz are threatened by fishers
promising to slaughter the young and old tortoises because they are
the symbol for conservation on the islands,” Watson said.
Several Sea Shepherd crew members were detained by the
Ecuadoran Navy on Isabela Island on June 5. Four crew members and
two Canadian videographers were stoned by the fishers while checking
on the condition of the tortoises on Santa Rosa Island on June 6.
Later on June 6 the Ecuadoran Navy ordered the Sea Shepherds to leave
the Galapagos, but allowed the Farley Mowat to refuel on Baltra
Island. After refueling, the Farley Mowat remained on patrol.
The May and June skirmishes resumed a series of
confrontations that began this year with a late February occupation
by fishers of both the Galapagos National Park office on Isabela
Island and the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, where
33 scientists were held for a week without food. At issue were
restrictions on longline shark fishing imposed to protect
albatrosses, sea lions, and sea turtles.
“Enormous factory ships are anchored just outside the 40-mile
exclusion zone placed around the Galapagos by the Ecuadoran
government, all prepared to pay locals up to 10 times as much as
they can obtain from selling a limited number of fish legally and
locally,” reported Harvey Elliot of the The Observer. “This only
helps to concentrate the fishers’ minds on their grievances, and
encourages hundreds to fish illegally,” especially for severely
depleted sea cucumbers.
Then-Ecuadoran environment minister Cesar Narvaez reportedly
agreed to concessions to end the occupation. He resigned in early
California Academy of Sciences chair of aquatic biology John
McCosker, who was in the Galapagos in 2000 when the fishers went on
their most destructive rampage to date, denounced the concessions as
Fundacion Natura executive director Richardo Moreno used almost
identical words in 2000, to no avail.
Such confrontations began with a 15-day outbreak of rioting
and looting in September 1995, after Ecuador banned sea cucumber
fishing within the Galapagos marine reserve.
The Galapagos then had a resident population of 15,000
humans, up from 45 in 1950 but 4,000 fewer than now, and attracted
50,000 visitors per year, about half the current number. The
fishers contended that they had to exploit the Galapagos’ marine life
because the tourism industry is structured to benefit chiefly the big
companies that operate cruise ships. Island residents typically see
little of the passengers.
Galapagos National Park wardens first enforced the ban on sea
cucumber fishing in March 1997, seizing a cargo of about 40,000,
worth $200,000. Ten days later a masked mob stormed a government
gathering on Isabela Island, injuring a bar worker and threatening
to kill a National Park patrol boat captain. Three days after that,
one of about 20 sea cucumber poachers wounded warden Julio Lopez with
a burst of gunfire.
The Ecuadoran government put the Galapagos under a state of
emergency in May 1997, and in 1998 moved ineffectively to prevent
further immigration to the islands, but backed down repeatedly in
May, November, and December 2000 after fishers stormed the
Galapagos National Park offices and the Darwin Research Center, and
destroyed a municipal library.
As many as 1,000 residents of the Galapagos are believed to
be fishing illegally, but the numbers involved in the violence are
low, according to all reports: never more than 50, usually 30-35.
The ringleaders are believed to include the group whose member shot
warden Lopez. They have apparently not been brought to justice
because of their alliances with commercial fishing firms and the
Clashes among the Sea Shepherds, the Ecuadoran Navy, and
illegal fishers continued into the summer. On June 13 the Sea
Shepherds intercepted the seiner Ancon “about one mile off Darwin
Island, the furthest north of the Galapagos Islands,” a Sea
Shepherd web posting said.
“On the evening of June 14, the Farley Mowat transferred the
Ancon to the National Park patrol vessel Guadalupe River,” the
account continued. “The Guadalupe River escorted the Ancon to Baltra
for boarding and inspection.”
The Ecuadoran Navy on June 16 sent a Captain Munoz back out
on the Guadalupe River to order the Sea Shepherds to leave the
“A few days earlier, the Navy had dispatched the gunboat
August the 5th to escort us from the Marine Reserve, but the vessel
broke down and was forced to return to San Cristobal,” the Sea
Shepherd web site recalled.
Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson told Munoz that his crew
would leave only “when, and only when, the director of the
Galapagos National Park requested him to do so.
“The next morning, the Farley Mowat discovered a large tuna
seiner setting its nets just inside the marine reserve,” the Sea
Shepherds said. “It was discovered to be the Yolanda L, registered
in Guayaquil, but with an American captain and an Ecuadorian and
The Sea Shepherds spent the day, they said, documenting
that the Yolanda L caught “eight to ten tons” of yellowfin tuna
within the reserve.
“The captain volunteered that he was in touch with his
company, that he sold his catch to Star-Kist, and that his company
was contacting the United States Coast Guard. This was a very
strange comment for a ship that claimed to be Ecuadoran,” observed
the Sea Shepherds.
The Sea Shepherd web site credited crew member Jordan de Vaan
with helping a swordfish to escape from the seiners’ net.
“The Sea Shepherds intend to complain to Star-Kist,” the
account concluded, and “will be turning over the documentary
evidence of the illegal activities of the Yolanda L to the Galapagos
While the Sea Shepherds try to hold off the destruction of
the ecosystem that 160 years ago inspired Charles Darwin to identify
and describe the process of evolution, Animal Balance is already
preparing to visit the Galapagos again in 2005.
Clifford is hopeful that if she can show that sterilization
works, especially using injectible methods, comparable projects can
replace massacres such as the eradication by gunfire of the Himalayan
tahrs on Table Mountain, South Africa, the killing of 253 hedgehogs
on North Uist and Benecula islands off Scotland, and the mass
poisoning of kiore (Polynesian rats) on Little Barrier Island off New
Zealand, all of which were underway even as Animal Balance operated.
Trap-and-relocate efforts proposed by opponents of the
massacres had limited success. No tahrs were saved. Save The Uist
Hedgehogs removed 190 hedgehogs to the mainland during a nine-week
campaign this year, after directing a similar rescue in 2003.
Members of the Ngati Wai Trust, representing Maori who consider the
kiore a wildlife treasure, rescued 179. Environmentalists regard
the kiore as a threat to the eggs of tuatara and Cook’s petrels.
Both the petrels and the tuatara, a lizard-like ancient reptile
species, are endangered.
“For the next few months I have to put our film together,
from about eight hours of footage, and try to get on the road and
out to conferences to tell the stories and start raising cash again,”
Animal Balance has a head start for next year.
“I had planned my supplies using the Galapagos Park Service
figures of 1,400 dogs and 800 cats, which were way too high,”
Clifford explained. “We left the extra supplies there, locked in a
warehouse, or donated them to the local vet, so he can keep
working. We plan to go back next year and will do a ‘top-up’ clinic
and humane education and dog training, and then start on the next
island using the same equipment, supplies and method, if we can
find the funding” for transportation, food, lodging, and other
necessities, Clifford said.
Contact Animal Balance c/o Emma Clifford, 135 Marlin Court, San
Francisco, CA 94124; 415-671-0886; <firstname.lastname@example.org>.