From September to December 2008, the vegan conservation group Sea Shepherd waged a fight to protect the ecosystem and all the animals of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. This blog recounts what happened in that time, serving for the group.
The post below describes the increased actions that followed the initial smuggling investigation.
Increased Actions and Results
The revelations of the previous week were bleak, but my mentor had a good point that could not be ignored. Due to the nature of the problem, I realized that any investigation required overwhelming evidence, and evidence that left the government blameless. I increased the intensity of my investigation, and worked to gather as much evidence to get into the smuggling industry as I could.
On the other side of the problem, I tried to work to help the adopting effort, so that people could be presented with great, homeless animals that they didn’t have to pay for. Nikki Wolf put his paws on the cages of feral cats who were caught in the wild, calming them as they were being socialized. A credit to his race, people would often say, “I DO NOT like cats, but I love Nikki Wolf.” :)
Nikki Wolf making rounds.to make sure everyone’s doing well.
Getting reliable informants wasn’t easy, and many said it would be impossible, but if this fragile and highly consequential ecosystem was to have a chance, I had to find at least one, by painstakingly combing the neighborhoods where I knew smuggling thrived. It took weeks, but I finally found one informant ready to help me.
This informant had access to a small but significant amount of evidence of animal smuggling and commercial breeding. So I hounded this case on an hourly basis trying to get it ready for a bust, so we would have at least one bona fide lead into this organized crime world. And then finally, one day, I had a guarantee that there would be enough evidence to get into the greater organization if we made a bust on this one local commercial breeding operation. So, on I gathered all the evidence I had access to and approached an Ecuadorian law enforcement office. My informant wasn’t afraid to come forward, so I presented the informant’s direct evidence and testimony too.
The law enforcement office said, “This is a horrendous crime! Thank you for this information! We will make the bust today… wait, make that, tomorrow morning.” I thought, that was it, we finally had our way into this business, and we could start a larger investigation starting from this bust. I kept this quiet; I didn’t even tell my informant that I was going to the authorities yet, and I only told the heads of the law enforcement division.
That afternoon, however, I got a rude wake-up call. My informant called me, dismayed. “I don’t know what just happened! This illegal local breeding business has been operating the same way every day for months, but suddenly, this afternoon, they started getting rid of all their evidence! And it’s like they know I’m informing on them! They’re suddenly changing their cover story, to ME! They’re changing their entire operation so that you can’t tell this business ever existed there!”
This was a terrible blow. This was everything I had. I was at a loss. And unfortunately, I was about to encounter a much bigger problem the Galapagsos had.
Around that time, Nikki Wolf became sick. The Animal Balance campaign was long over, so those campaign veterinarians had left the Galapagos already. Thus, I gave Nikki Wolf over to government offices concerned animal welfare in the Galapagos, and they said they would treat him, for which I was grateful. But they later gave me back a near-skeleton of a cat, as they were ultimately not trained, staffed, or equipped to treat him. After a few hours of his getting considerably worse, I brought him back, begging them to help, which is when I made a terrible discovery.
There are no full-time vet offices in the Galapagos. None. The government office wasn’t able to even begin an examination, and they couldn’t figure out how to get a saline drip to work so they just didn’t do anything about his skeleton state. They didn’t know how to do anything to help him, so they gave him back to me asking me to feed him chicken soup every ten minutes until he got better.
I scoured the islands looking for vet care. Everywhere I went, and no matter which office or group I asked, the answer was the same as the government’s response to animal crimes: “Well, people shouldn’t have cats or dogs here, so no, we’re not going to support any vet care. The cats and dogs are the problem. They should all just go.” So not only would no human receive justice for torturing and smuggling animals, but the only way for the Galapagos to solve the problem, was to hope all the cats and dogs died of injury or disease (even though typical dog and cat illnesses will easily spell doom for all the endemic animals of the Galapagos too). Nikki Wolf’s health deteriorated by the hour, and there was nothing I could do about it but watch and hold him while he slowly got weaker. The Sea Shepherd office was remarkably supportive and gave me any resources they could offer, and Alex and the other office people were fantastic about helping care for and feed him, but there was ultimately nothing they could do for his health. I was in constant email contact with Animal Balance vets in the US, but they couldn’t take blood of fluid samples from my cat, nor could they physically examine him, so all they could do was guess.
On October 27th, one month after Ecuador passed a historic constitution saying that nature had rights, a few hours before my birthday, my cat Nikki Wolf died. He died in the middle of the Sea Shepherd office, because there was literally no place else on the Galapagos that would take him. He died because he was the only criminal that the government decided was worth punishing.
My return ticket to New York was scheduled for the very next week.
Next Monday’s post will cover the events leading up to my scheduled departure from the Galapagos.