By Emma Clifford, Founder and Director of Animal Balance.
Wherever humans inhabit the planet, we bring our companions: cats and dogs. The Galapagos Islands are no exception, and Charles Darwin’s theory on natural selection has played there out as predicted — the most “fit” species, the cats and dogs, have thrived as introduced predators. Finding a humane solution to quickly reduce their populations has been critical, as they pose a serious threat to the native wildlife of Galapagos.
For more than a decade, Animal Balance has been collaborating with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG), the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), and our major sponsors, Galapagos Conservancy and the Maltz Family Foundation, to implement a humane and sustainable animal management program in the Islands. In doing so, we have shown that we can control the population of cats and dogs and thereby protect the delicate native and endemic species of Galapagos.
In May of 2004, Animal Balance mobilized our first veterinary medical team to Isabela Island to begin implementing community-based sterilization clinics. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which was working with the GNPD to control illegal activities in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, helped ship all of our supplies. When our very excited veterinary team set up the first clinic, we opened our doors and waited…but no one showed up!
After some serious head-scratching, we changed our approach: we had to figure out how to build trust in this remote community. We took our shampoo, borrowed a hose, found a tap and set up in the main square. Then we enticed some of the stray dogs to come over and we washed them all! This was the Galapagos’ first dog wash, and people came out of their houses to watch the foreigners and dogs having fun. Once we had engaged the local people, we held a community meeting and invited a well-trusted local individual to come and endorse the program. The second day at our clinic was full.
Since then, we have moved from San Cristóbal to Floreana to Santa Cruz Islands to not only sterilize the cat and dog populations, but to provide critical support programs such as humane education, dog training classes, veterinary and technician training, and fun community events. A population census in 2007 underscored the impact of the campaigns in that 80% of the pet cat and dog populations living in the municipal areas had been sterilized. It was effective then, and continues to be effective today.
Now Animal Balance and ABG have signed a convenio, or agreement, for us to deploy once a year to provide ‘top-up’ clinics and conduct further training as needed — essentially, we are now maintaining this successful program.
Together, we have quietly stopped the loss of so many native and endemic animals. Animal Balance has now replicated this program in over 10 countries around the world by finding humane ways to control cat and dog populations and encouraging responsible pet ownership.
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Emma Clifford holds a BA with Honors in Sociology with an emphasis in research from the University of Central England. Emma’s background is in animal population management, particularly community-based humane cat reduction programs; she created a city-wide program in San Francisco, CA, that became the national model. The key to its success was the grassroots, community and volunteer orientated approach, a strategy she effectively applied to managing the dog and cat population in the Galapagos Islands. All photos © Animal Balance. Read more about managing pet populations in Galapagos.