Commentary by Erwin Vermeulen, Sea Shepherd Chief Engineer
Manotas, the First Sea Shepherd Galapagos Wildlife-sniffing Dog, Retires. The retirement of this four-legged hero was officially confirmed and celebrated during a ceremony in his honor in Ecuador’s capital, Quito.In October 2013, Manotas was the first Golden Lab of the Galapagos K9 wildlife-detection unit of the Ecuadorian National Police to retire. Read the original story
The first week of May 2014, Nico, Bosco, Kevin and Cristina were set to join Manotas in a well-deserved life of rest, love, joy and play after their service for the oceans and wildlife of the Galapagos. So once again I boarded a plane, this time accompanied by Sea Shepherd USA Administrative Director, Susan Hartland and Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue Founder, Yvonne Devereaux to meet the wonderful Sea Shepherd Galapagos team at their base in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, where the official handover of the dogs from the police back into Sea Shepherd’s hands would take place.
In 2008, Sea Shepherd acquired six police dogs in Colombia and Manotas, Nico, Bosco and Kevin were four of them. Four more dogs came from several sources; Cristina was one of those. After extensive training by the elite Ecuadorian police unit Grupo de Intervención y Rescate (GIR) on the mainland, the dogs were transferred to the Galapagos Islands in January 2009 where, after additional training by the environmental police, Unidad de Protección del Medio Ambiente (UPMA), they became part of the canine squad combating the smuggling of shark fins and sea cucumbers and wildlife trafficking in the Galapagos Islands. Once in the Galapagos, the dogs were divided over the main population centers on the islands – Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, and Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island – and have been checking all movements of people and cargo between, to and from these islands.
Since 2010, Sea Shepherd Galapagos has been the only group providing food and veterinary care to the dogs. Sea Shepherd will continue to cover all food and medical care expenses for the remaining dogs, as well as training materials.
The presence of the dogs is a great deterrent for wildlife smuggling, and the K9 unit has proven over the years that if you engage in this illegal trafficking, you will get caught.
Bosco and Nico worked on San Cristobal Island. In 2011, they performed 942 flight and 394 vessel checks. The effective combination of maritime patrols and K9 unit checks resulted that year in the discovery and confiscation of 357 mutilated shark bodies, 82 sharks, 225 shark fins, 292 lobsters and 731 sea cucumbers.
That same year, Kevin and Manotas performed 1706 flight and 1449 vessel checks on the main tourist island of Santa Cruz, preventing a marine iguana, a Galapagos tortoise and four sea horses from being smuggled out of the Galapagos. Cristina did similar checks on flights and ships on Isabela Island.
More than 1,500 shark fins, almost 10,000 sea cucumbers and more than 1,100 lobsters have been intercepted so far, along with various live wildlife specimens.
Since 2000, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has maintained a strong and positive presence in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos is our line in the sand. If humanity cannot protect such a unique and diverse ecosystem, we will not be able to protect any ecosystem. The Galapagos is a challenge and a battlefield in the effort to halt human greed and destruction. These ‘Enchanted Isles’ are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that we all have a responsibility to help protect them from illegal exploitation. Over the years Sea Shepherd has, among other things, supplied radio equipment to the park rangers and police and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to monitor movements of fishing vessels. Sea Shepherd has also provided education to schoolchildren about the importance of protecting sharks. And, of course, we initiated the K9 unit.
Part of the agreement with the UPMA was that, after 5 years of work on planetary duty, these canine superstars would be returned to Sea Shepherd, whose staff would find them the best homes and families available and will monitor their well being for the rest of their lives. For this reason, we brought the dogs to Seattle, where we will work with Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue to find them homes in the Pacific Northwest, in the vicinity of the Sea Shepherd USA headquarters.
The ceremony in Puerto Ayora was well attended and organized. In attendance to honor the dogs were, amongst others: the Delegate of the City’s Mayor (Alcalde); the National Commander of the Environmental Protection Unit of the National Police (Unidad de Proteccion del Medio Ambiente de la Policia Nacional); the Cantonal (city) Police Commander (Comandante cantonal de Policia); the Delegate of the Governor (Gobernador); the Director of the Agencia de Regulacion y Control de Bioseguridad (biosafety authority); the Subdirector of the Parque Nacional Galapagos (second authority at national park); Delegates and/or representatives of the Consejo de Gobierno del Régimen Especial de la Provincia de Galapagos; the Air Force; the Civil Aviation (airport authority); the Judicial authorities; several policemen; the Representative of the Conservation Sector; and the local media including representatives from radio, television and newspapers.
Sea Shepherd was represented by Galapagos Director Godfrey Merlen, Galapagos Legal Advisor Hugo Echeverria, Global Executive Director Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd USA Administrative Director Susan Hartland, Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue Founder Yvonne Devereaux and Sea Shepherd Chief Engineer, Erwin Vermeulen.
Many speeches were given, all emphasizing the importance of the K9 unit and the great satisfaction from all sides over the cooperation between Sea Shepherd, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ecuador, the National Police, the National Park and the local authorities and community.
Kevin and his guide gave one more demonstration of their effectiveness and professionalism by successfully sniffing out a few pieces of dried sea cucumber from a display of identical boxes.
It cannot be emphasized enough that these dogs and their guides formed the first-ever police K9 unit in South America that focuses on the detection of contraband wildlife. The success of this project is critical, as other South American countries and beyond could learn from this model program and implement a similar system. This will be elemental in getting stronger wildlife protections in place in a part of the world that is so rich in biodiversity.
Arriving at SeaTac airport, the dogs were in great spirits, especially considering the three multiple-hour flights. They were greeted by their foster families who will give them a chance to adjust to their new lives while we get to know them and learn their individual characteristics and personalities, helping to find them the ideal, loving, permanent homes.
More updates on these retired canine Sea Shepherds in their new lives will follow.
Thank you very much to everyone who supported this project, and to everyone who filled out applications to either foster or adopt (check out the LHDR website; there are many more dogs looking for a forever home!) and Sea Shepherd volunteers Carlos and Cristina in Quito.
Sea Shepherd considers Galapagos an ongoing campaign and possibly one of the most important in our history and in that of the human race. After all, if we can’t protect an eco-system as unique as the Galapagos Islands, we are doomed as a species.
Please click on the link below to donate, if you can, to support these and other important wildlife- and habitat-saving projects: Support Sea Shepherd.