Galapagos cruise  guests may have noticed pets roaming the streets of towns like Santa Cruz while visiting. In an effort to reduce the threat that free-roaming pets pose to wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA)  has provided the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency with funding to conduct emergency pet sterilizationson Isabela, Floreana, and Santa Cruz.
The emergency funding will pay for two teams of veterinarians from the non-profit Darwin Animal Doctors to conduct the sterilization programs. To date, 79 dogs and 55 cats have been sterilized as a result of the donation, with more sterilizations scheduled on Isabela in the coming weeks.
“Dogs and cats are very successful predators. As such, they put constant pressure on the wildlife and the environment of human-inhabited islands, such as Isabela and Floreana," said Godfrey Merlin, a biologist and conservationist based in the Galapagos Islands. "We must be vigilant in our efforts to control them. Without support from IGTOA and its member companies this important initiative would not have been possible.”
Similar sterilization programs in the past have been successful at reducing dog and cat populations. IGTOA believes educating villagers about the problem is crucial to keeping the problem under control.
As part of the sterilization program, vets will be compiling data on the presence of diseases in the dogs and cats being sterilized, in order to better understand the prevalence and nature of the diseases they carry. A disease of particular interest is canine distemper, which may have the potential to infect endangered Galapagos sea lions and has caused widespread mortality among sea lion populations in central and northern Europe.
The Charles Darwin Foundation estimatesthere over 1,400 invasive species in the Galapagos Islands. Experts have warned that invasive species pose a serious existential threat to many of the endemic species that inhabit the islands.
Since it was founded in 1996, IGTOA  and member companies like International Expeditions have supported Galapagos conservation efforts, many of which have been focused on reducing the impact of invasive species.