IDEXX and the evolution of pet health in the Galápagos

Galapagos Island

The Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are legendary. They inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and are known worldwide for the vast number of exotic animal species that call these islands home. At one time, humans might have been considered an exotic species in the Galápagos, but over the years, their numbers have increased significantly. And humans being human, didn’t come alone. They brought their dogs and cats.

Overpopulation of pets threatens fragile species

As numerous as people and pets have become on the four inhabited islands of the Galápagos, veterinary services have been in extremely short supply. The absence of veterinary care resulted in overpopulation and illness among the islands cats and dogs, problems that threaten the islands’ more fragile species.

Thankfully, a group of veterinarians and volunteers banded together in 2010 to form Darwin Animal Doctors. The group works to provide comprehensive veterinary care for all animals of the Galápagos Islands and protect the islands’ biodiversity.

Darwin Animal Doctors started by offering free spaying and neutering of cats and dogs to minimize interactions between domestic and exotic animals, which can lead to the spread of invasive diseases. Not surprisingly, the demand was great and the pace was frantic. But Darwin Animal Doctors was committed to doing more. They needed to test and treat the animals for disease and gather data that would help them assess short- and long-term health challenges.

The evolution of Darwin Animal Doctors

The president and founder of Darwin Animal Doctors, Tod Emko, recently spoke with IDEXX about the evolution of his organization, “When we started in 2010, we were going door to door because we didn’t even have a clinic. By 2011, we were building capacity because more people were interested in what we were doing. We got more donors and space! By then, we also had the support of veterinarians and technicians from all over the world who formed groups and came to help out. That really freed up time for me and other members to do outreach and seek opportunities to talk about the situation.”

When IDEXX learned about their work, the company stepped in to help. It started with a chance meeting between the general manager of operations for IDEXX in Latin America, Jean Chiotti, and Tod Emko in June of 2013. Both men happened to attend the Take Action for Animals conference in Washington, DC, and they seized the opportunity to discuss how diagnostic capabilities could enhance the work of Darwin Animal Doctors. Jean took action right away, reaching out to a partner of IDEXX in Ecuador. In no time, Darwin Animal Doctors received a donation that would help them achieve a new level of service: a suite of IDEXX instruments. IDEXX’s local partner installed the instruments and trained the veterinarians on their use. Just three months after the two men met, IDEXX instruments were up and running.

According to Tod Emko, ”It’s been amazing. Our vets are overjoyed. IDEXX instruments are helping us help the animals and providing us with invaluable information. This donation has increased our capacity in a way that has almost never been possible on the islands.

“Thanks to IDEXX, our efforts will be infinitely more effective, not just for our work with cats and dogs, but for the long-term sustainability of the Galápagos. That impact grows each day we gain more information from it, and the ultimate impact will be enormous.”

Meet Tod Emko, president and founder of Darwin Animal Doctors
Tod and Hooper, one of the first patients treated by Darwin Animal Doctors

Tod Emko is a conservationist from New York City. He came to the Galápagos Islands for the first time in 2008, serving with an international marine conservation group. While working to protect the marine reserve, Tod fell in love with the islands and wanted to ensure the survival of its amazing and important animals. He soon saw that veterinarians were in dire need in the Galápagos, where many introduced dangers threatened the local biosphere. He started Darwin Animal Doctors to fill the void and bring qualified veterinarians to the Galápagos to help all animals of the islands.