By guest author Elsa Kohlbus, Program Director of Animal Balance.
On an island famous for sea lions that fill the beaches, lounge on benches, and nap on the front porches of waterfront buildings, one can begin to understand how species in the Galapagos Islands can peacefully coexist. San Cristóbal, like the other islands in the Galapagos Archipelago, is home to a vast array of wildlife that live harmoniously — seemingly unaware that this is a remarkable feat in today’s crowded world.
This scene provided an ideal backdrop for the recent Animal Balance campaign on San Cristóbal. It was our second trip to the island in the last 12 months, and a continuation of our 15 years of partnerships in Galapagos, working to provide sustainable, humane population management solutions for domestic cats and dogs. During the first week of May 2018, Animal Balance joined forces with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG; its Spanish acronym), with support from Galapagos Conservancy and Alley Cat Allies, to hold a MASH-style (Mobile Animal Sterilization Hospital) sterilization and vaccination campaign.
The goal of the campaign, and the continuing work that Animal Balance is doing with our partners in Galapagos, is to provide a humane way to control the cat and dog populations while allowing these animals to live out their lives alongside the many native species that call the island home. To achieve this, we brought in a team of volunteers from around the world to provide trapping and sterilization services, and to mentor local veterinarians and ABG staff so that the work could be continued once we departed.
Upon arrival on San Cristóbal, Animal Balance Director and Founder, Emma Clifford, was brought to tears as the team from ABG revealed that a brick-and-mortar clinic had been built for the Animal Balance team to work in — as well as for ABG veterinarians to use moving forward. Dr. Marilyn Cruz, Director of the ABG, had asked that the clinic building be kept a secret until the team arrived, and they were certainly quite happily surprised.
The clinic will house San Cristóbal’s own veterinarian, Dr. Fernando Villa, who recently graduated from veterinary school in Quito and has returned to his home on the island to serve the animals there. The addition of Dr. Villa to the ABG veterinary team is huge. He joins two other veterinarians and will be able to provide consistent service to animals on the islands of San Cristóbal and Isabela. Over the course of the campaign, Dr. Villa worked alongside Animal Balance veterinarians to refine his skills in high volume spay/neuter techniques. His passion, engagement in the work, and dedication to his home island were an inspiration to us all.
Thanks to a grant for vaccines from Galapagos Conservancy, Animal Balance and ABG were able to provide DHLPP vaccines (distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis and parainfluenza — a canine combo vaccine that targets common and potentially deadly canine diseases) for dogs in the clinic. This has only been possible since 2017, when the ABG first allowed the importation of the vaccine to the Islands, and will make a major improvement in the future lives of dogs on the islands.
The availability of this vaccine allows dogs to live longer, healthier lives, resulting in a strengthened bond between the dogs and their human caregivers. The longer dogs live, the more they are viewed as part of the family and more attention is given to their care. This is how programs such as this become a catalyst for social change — cultivating responsible, invested pet owners. Only through responsible pet caregiving can the wildlife of Galapagos be protected on islands where cats and dogs are present.
This work is ushering in a new era for cats and dogs in Galapagos. The lives of these animals, and future generations, will have access to care that will greatly improve their quality of life, and better pet management will minimize their impact on the native wildlife that share the island.
During our week on San Cristóbal, we had volunteers from the USA, Trinidad, Colombia, and mainland Ecuador. Everyone came together with the same goal: to treat all beings with kindness and respect, and work together to help species continue to peacefully coexist.
Elsa Kohlbus has been with Animal Balance for six years, as a volunteer veterinary technician and, for the past year as a staff member, serving as Communications Director and now as Program Director. This was her third trip to the Galapagos Islands for an Animal Balance campaign. All photos © Animal Balance.
Galapagos Conservancy has been supporting Animal Balance’s work in Galapagos since 2014.