Nov 8, 2019

Plastics: The largest threat to the Galapagos

The very first MASH style spay/neuter clinics on the Galapagos Islands were started by Animal Balance in 2004, and they continue today. This unique, humane method for controlling the populations of cats and dogs has resulted in unprecedented protection of the resident species. Thousands upon thousands of cats and dogs have been sterilized and vaccinated for free over the past 16 years. The program has been such a huge success due in large part to the support from the local community, especially the authorities tasked with protecting resident species endemic to these islands. The community and authorities both recognized the positive outcomes of  our program, and now advocate for it within the political structure on the islands. 

Animal Balance has played a vital role in humanely controlling the cat and dog populations on these islands over the past 15 years. But now the islands face a challenge which could prove far greater to control: PLASTIC. 

This silent killer arrives on the three key currents which collide with the islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. If you add to that the plastic waste generated by the over 300,000 tourists who visit the islands annually, and the plastic waste left behind by the 30,000 people who live on the islands, the results are devastating. As social media has made us so well aware, this plastic ultimately ends up in the stomachs of some of the most sensitive wildlife on Earth, both on land and in the ocean. The wild residents of the Galapagos Islands will not survive this ongoing onslaught of plastic without immediate intervention. 

The Animal Balance teams have witnessed the accumulation of plastics on the islands over the years. From marine iguanas with plastic bottles stuck on their heads, to Darwin finches feeding out of plastic cups of flavored ice, slowly but surely every species on the islands has started to feel the effects of the overabundance of plastic.

The Galapagos National Park Service has approached Animal Balance a number of times over the years to request urgent veterinary care for sea lions who have thick plastic wrapped around their necks, hoping to save them from imminent death. Our compassionate volunteer Veterinarians and clinic volunteers have spent many nights sitting up with these ailing sea lions as they are coming out of anesthesia. Our teams make the best of what supplies we have available in these situations, utilizing dog kennels to give the sea lions time to recover from anesthesia prior to releasing them back into the wild a few hours later, hoping they survive. 

Right now, Animal Balance is in a unique position to intervene on the Galapagos. Having worked on the islands for over 16 years, we have built friendships and relationships with generations of community members and authorities who trust that when we say we are going to help, we will. Working together with our on-island partners, we have come up with a plan, and now we need your help to ignite it. 

Animal Balance is excited to announce that in 2020, with the help of the authorities, we will be launching two new programs which will be implemented on the Galapagos Islands, both with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic on the islands AND repurposing the existing plastic waste into usable material. Today, we are formally announcing the beginning of the T-Shirts To Totes Program and the Bottles To Bricks Program.

The T-Shirts To Totes Program recruits volunteers from all over the United States by challenging them to repurpose a t-shirt that they already own and turn it into a tote bag. The idea is to then distribute these T-Shirt Totes throughout the Galapagos Islands, as a means of replacing plastic bags without creating more waste in the process. Every T-Shirt Tote will have a message in both Spanish and English thanking the person using it for saving one more plastic bag from entering our world’s oceans. When the 300,000 tourists who visit the islands each year leave to return home, they will each be asked to donate a t-shirt so that the community can continue to make totes from them. Because of our existing relationships, this program has already been approved by the authorities responsible for the protection of biodiversity and biosecurity on the islands and can be implemented as soon as we are ready.

The Bottle Bricks to Dog House Program will repurpose plastic waste into “eco-bricks” which can be used to build dog houses and fences for families on the islands. Everyone (schools, offices, hotels, yachts etc.) will collect their plastics and put them into 2-liter empty plastic bottles. These bottles become ‘eco-bricks’ and can be used to build dog houses and fences. Local residents cannot afford dog kennels, but in order to keep sensitive species safe, and according to an ordinance recently adopted on the islands they must keep their dogs confined. The eco-bricks will make it possible for local families to safely and humanely confine their dogs to their yards, while reducing the amount of plastic which would have otherwise ended up in the trash. 

Two simple, grassroots programs which have the potential to quickly and positively impact all species of the Galapagos Islands. Our goal is to implement these two programs in 2020, as we have no time to waste if we want to preserve the Galapagos Islands. We realize our goals are lofty, but we never would’ve dreamed that we would be in a position to create this type of social change when we started back in 2004, and we’re not about to stop now. 

Our goal: $10,000 by the end of this year. 

The time to act is NOW. The stakes are too high not to do everything we can right now. Join us in promoting refuse, reuse and recycle when it comes to all plastics on these incredible islands. Join us in igniting social change so that tourists stop inadvertently loving one of the most precious and delicate ecosystems on planet Earth to death. 

 



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Jul 3, 2019

Galapagos Program Update!

In 2019, the Animal Balance Galapagos program is placing its full focus on one island, San Cristobal.  In recent years, AB has been concerned with the increase in free-roaming cats seen on San Cristobal Island, and we have taken steps to address this by introducing humane cat traps, and veterinary training on high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter for ABG veterinarians, including for the new, permanently assigned San Cristobal ABG vet.  Unfortunately, ABG budget cuts in the last quarter of 2018, eliminated the veterinary position on San Cristobal, and extinguished the expectation that cat population growth could be addressed with a combination of ongoing cat spay/neuter on the island and AB’s annual high-volume sterilization campaigns.

Since 2004, when AB introduced cat and dog spay/neuter as the centerpiece of a comprehensive humane animal management framework for the Galapagos Islands, we have actively collaborated with local agencies to methodically reach and maintain a 70%-80% sterilization rate that keeps the population in check.  Because sterilization surgeries on San Cristobal are not keeping pace with population growth, especially in cats, we believe it is critically important to undertake a focused and intensive multi-year intervention, including humane education, sterilization of large numbers of cats (and unfixed dogs as needed), and implementation of an ongoing cat count that introduces a permanent method for monitoring the cat population and percentage of cats that are sterilized on San Cristobal.  An additional component of this year’s AB plan is to provide our ABG partners with humane dog traps and expert training on their use, as there is a need to protect local wildlife from loose dogs, and to be able to return the dogs to their guardians with education on responsible pet care.

2019 San Cristobal AB Project Components

  • San Cristobal Cat Count Introduction and Training
  • Humane Education and Vaccination Campaign (Late Summer)
  • Two-Week Sterilization Campaign: 1,000 Cats/300 Dogs (Early December)
  • Humane Dog Traps/Training

The San Cristobal Cat Count

Working in consultation with biologist and biostatistician John Boone, PhD, Animal Balance is introducing a method to quantitatively document the state of free-roaming cats on San Cristobal Island, employing relatively simple standardized cat monitoring protocols (i.e. cat counting), similar to those being developed as part of the D.C. Cat Count Project (see www.dccatcount.org).  The protocols employ a combination of periodic counts in predetermined areas, and ongoing population occupancy monitoring.  These techniques will allow AB/ABG to document program impacts, adjust program efforts as needed in order to maximize these impacts, and to understand why these impacts occurred.  Also, once we have fine-tuned our approach on San Cristobal, we will expand the cat count to Isabela and Santa Cruz islands.

The initial and future periodic counts will be carried out before and after intensive sterilization efforts, and then at predetermined intervals, most likely quarterly or semi-annually. Information that will be recorded will include exact location, age (adult or kitten), sterilization status (based on presence of an ear tip or not), and a body condition estimate of each cat that is seen, along with the capability to take a linked photograph of the cat and record any ancillary observations.

Ongoing population occupancy monitoring will be done on a more frequent monthly basis, by individuals who are familiar with the cats.  This will allow these individuals to record whether known, recognizable individuals are seen in the designated area or not, and to also note the appearance of any previously unrecorded cats that are individually recognizable.

The AB Ecuadorian-based Galapagos Liaison will oversee the cat count, and recruit volunteers to provide the ongoing occupancy monitoring counts.  Mobile devices will be used for the cat counts, and where there is no cell coverage, cat counters are able to upload data gathered when a wifi network becomes available.  Undertaking ongoing cat monitoring, and including appropriately trained community members in this activity, will provide a means for community members to actively participate in promoting that San Cristobal cats are healthy and sterilized.

Humane Education and Vaccination Campaign

The joint AB/ABG humane education and vaccination campaign will prepare San Cristobal for a massive Animal Balance cat (and dog) sterilization campaign later in 2019.  We will use this outreach with vaccinations and deparacitation for pets, to stress the importance of sterilizing cats, and having their ears tipped to denote it. We will also identify community members who want to participate in the ongoing cat counts.

During this campaign we will also provide much-needed basic veterinary care, provided by the beloved native San Cristobal veterinarian who was recently laid off from ABG (he now practices in Quito).  And we will finalize with ABG a project and communications plan that will map out how to get 1,000 cats to the MASH clinics to be sterilized, and that will also help identify which dogs need sterilization.

High-Volume MASH Sterilization Campaign

In the last quarter of 2019, AB will bring into San Cristobal a veterinary team expert in high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter to sterilize up to 1,000 cats and 300 dogs.  This aggressive but necessary goal is achievable with the coordinated and intensive outreach by ABG/AB and local cat count volunteers. A post-campaign cat count will be conducted to measure the campaign’s effect on the observed sterilization rate, which will inform strategies and decisions for future campaigns.

Outreach and spay/neuter in 2019 will be promoted in the entire island, however, sensitive areas will be targeted as highest priority (proximity to sea lion colonies, for example). Then, working out from these locations in concentric circles.

Humane Dog Traps and Training

Recently, our ABG partners on San Cristobal have noticed an increased number of dogs loose on the streets and beach, and instances of dog bites and threats to local wildlife.  These dogs are elusive and ABG has no ability to capture them.

To provide ABG with resources and training for the safe capture of these dogs (for return to their homes with education for their guardians), Animal Balance will bring humane dog traps to San Cristobal, and provide training by expert trapper Consie von Gontard, Director of Training for the Florida State Animal Response Coalition.  Ms. Von Gontard has worked with Animal Balance on challenging street-dog campaigns, and trapped dogs for spay/neuter from the Bahamas to Samoa. Dog traps and the ability to use them safely and effectively will provide the ABG team with an essential tool for protecting wildlife and the community, while also educating dog guardians about responsible care of their pets.

Conclusion

With its intensive focus on humane education and sterilization for cats (and dogs) on San Cristobal in 2019, Animal Balance expects to once again improve the health status of and stabilize the cat and dog population on San Cristobal Island.  Dog traps and training will enhance ABG’s ability to protect wildlife and the community in general from free-roaming dogs, and will help support the success of ABG’s ongoing “I am a responsible pet owner” campaign.

And institutionalizing the cat count will provide ABG and AB with analytics that will help inform future strategies and focus, allowing us to accurately track the cat population over time.  And citizen involvement in this project will create a new level of engagement by community members with the cats and dogs on their island.



Nov 29, 2018

Planning for 2019

2018 was the biggest year ever for Animal Balance! Thousands of cats and dogs were sterilized and many more lives were saved because of our spay/neuter efforts around the world. 

This was the first year that we held a campaign in Trinidad, thanks largely in part to our dear friend, veterinarian and Animal Balance Board Member, Dr. Raymond Deonanan. A portion of the campaign was even held at his house in Charlieville, Trinidad, and his family opened the doors to their home to provide accomodation for our team. 329 animals received spay/neuter, vaccinations, and anti-parasite medication as a result of this campaign. 

As we look ahead to 2019, we are hopeful that we will be able to return to Trinidad and continue the work that is so desperately needed there. The turnout for our inaugural camapign was amazing and we know that if we are able to return it will be even larger. 

In order to return to Trinidad and continue this work, we need to raise at least $10,000 for supplies and expenses. Once we are near our funding goal, we can begin the logistical planning for our next campaign. 

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