Protecting Galapagos Wildlife through Humane Pet Management

April 15, 2015

By Tod Emko and Andrea Gordon of Darwin Animal Doctors, a nonprofit organization providing free, comprehensive veterinary care to the domestic animals of the Galapagos Islands, as well as free education and professional veterinary training to the resident community of the archipelago. All photos © Darwin Animal Doctors.


Puppy in Galapagos.Blue footed boobies, sea lions, giant tortoises, hammerhead sharks, and puppies and kittens. Puppies and kittens? Yes, these animals are part of the Galapagos Islands today. Darwin’s theory of evolution was born long ago in the fiery Galapagos archipelago. Today, evolving approaches to conservation are needed to protect these exquisite islands.

Preserving Darwin’s living laboratory in modern times also means combating modern threats and providing veterinary care to all animals of this new Galapagos. Thanks to the Celebrity Xpedition Fund and Nova Galapagos Foundation, Darwin Animal Doctors has been able to help conserve and protect Galapagos in groundbreaking ways.

An owl receives care at the veterinary clinic.By limiting the impact of domestic animals through sterilization, a humane approach to managing pet overpopulation, native Galapagos wildlife such as marine iguanas and finches are protected from predation by cats and dogs that have been brought to the Islands as pets over the years. Last year, we acquired medicine for surgery and sterilized 590 animals. We were also able to hire a full-time veterinarian, Dr. Ainoa Neito, who could make our veterinary clinic available to the Galapagos National Park as needed for the care of other animals — such as this lucky native owl who received surgery at the clinic!

Our clinic has been specially constructed to ensure diseases such as parvovirus and distemper cannot be easily spread. Preventing deadly invasive diseases like distemper from reaching the Galapagos sea lion population is one of our top priorities. All veterinary care at our clinic is provided free of charge, so we don’t put a price on saving lives. Families can bring in their animals for free parasite treatments, further protecting the fragile Galapagos ecosystem.

A domestic dog receives a de-ticking treatment in Galapagos.

The people of the Galapagos are ultimately responsible for protecting this special place of international significance. We work locally with underserved communities at monthly education and outreach events organized by the Galapagos Agency for the Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine (ABG) to make conservation a community affair! We reached over one-third of the population of Santa Cruz through outreach events last year. Although the distribution of biodegradable dog waste bags may seem like a small step, something like this can go a long way in preventing the spread of disease on the Islands.

A dog waste bag holder and a DAD outreach clinic.

A DAD veterinarian with a puppy in Galapagos.The threats to the Galapagos Islands are rapidly evolving, and our response must be equally nimble. In 2014, we treated 2,050 animals and shielded wildlife from disease and predation. This year, we plan to educate and train even more Galapagos community members every month to give them the tools to secure a sustainable future. And we will provide year-round veterinary services to help the government of Galapagos protect all who live on the Islands, including everything from groundbreaking disease testing, to preventive care against invasive parasites, to emergency and sterilization surgeries needed daily.

 “The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”  
– Charles Darwin


Tod Emko is a conservationist and President and Founder of Darwin Animal Doctors. After visiting Galapagos for the first time in 2008, he fell in love with the Islands and saw that veterinarians and humane education were in dire need in the Galapagos. He founded Darwin Animal Doctors in 2010 to bring qualified vets to the Islands and help the government in its mission to protect the amazing wildlife of Galapagos.

Andrea Gordon is a lawyer and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Darwin Animal Doctors. After visiting Galapagos as part of a marine conservation project, Andrea became passionate about protecting this extraordinary World Heritage Site and the animals living there. She utilizes her experience in law, nonprofits, and wildlife conservation to help save the animals of Galapagos.

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