How did this Houston, Texas born girl end up in the Galapagos Islands working with a conservationist from NYC to ensure and celebrate the the survival of it's amazing animals?
Morgan Nabhan was born in Houston, attended River Oaks Baptist School, and Lamar High School's International Baccalaureate program before moving to Pennsylvania and graduating from Unionville High School. After high school she attended Boston University, graduating Summa cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
According to her father, Houston businessman, Norman Nabhan, "Morgan was in 7th or 8th grade when she absolutely knew that she wanted to be a Vet. In high school she worked for an all-female Vet practice and used to shadow the Vets when they would visit the horse farms in our area. She said that when she was in a stable and they were working on a horse and a barn cat would walk by she would be instantly drawn to the cat. She is destined for the small animal would. In high school she brought home numerous stray cats (one was pregnant) and also a baby deer that had just been born in the middle of the road and the mother ran off. The deer stayed with us for a couple of weeks while she bottle fed it. When it started wondering around the house, she and my wife took it to an animal shelter farm."
One semester Morgan traveled abroad in Ecuador studying tropical ecology. As part of the program she traveled to the Galápagos Islands.
In addition to being amazed by the beauty and uniqueness of the habitat and animal species, she was stunned by the unchecked population of feral dogs and cats that were roaming the streets of the Islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela, and their unnatural incursions into the native habitats and wildlife that people come from all over the world to marvel at. Dogs and cats were turning wild and attacking the Galapagos Turtles, Iguanas and Blue Footed Boobies.
She found her passion.
Morgan took a year in between her undergraduate studies and veterinary school to work at a veterinary clinic in Boston and to travel. During this year, remembering the sights of Galapagos, Morgan spent months planning to volunteer for three weeks with the founder of Darwin Animal Doctors (DAD) at a new veterinary clinic on the Island of Santa Cruz. While most people believe that the Galapagos are uninhabited, the Island of Santa Cruz has a population of 18,000 people that has doubled since the year 2000. Isabela has 2,000 permanent residents and two other islands have a few residents.
Along with the human population have come their pets.
The Galapagos Islands, an archipelago province of Ecuador, is a United Nations World Heritage Site. This globally important ecosystem lies on the equator, just west of mainland South America. Despite its internationally recognized status, almost no one on earth realizes that the islands are overrun by invasive dogs and cats and are full of SUVs, garbage dumps, and countless other threats to the unique fauna of the Galapagos. Darwin Animal Doctors (DAD) is the only permanent full-service veterinary surgery clinic on the islands, treating animals year-round and providing free humane education to the community of Galapagos.
This is the story of how DAD first came to exist.
It was 2010, back when there were no full-time, full-service surgical veterinary clinics on Galapagos. The need was great; there were tens of thousands of people on the Galapagos, uncounted thousands of unsterilized dogs and cats on the streets, and no permanent veterinary presence to tend to all the demands this generated.
President, Tod Emko, said, "I had lived on the Galapagos for a couple of months before I started to frequent my town’s industrial neighborhood, and noticed the animal noises there. Walking through this neighborhood, I often heard dogs barking as I walked by the city power plant. I thought they may have been guard dogs, but didn’t know why I always heard so many. One day, I walked inside the compound and found a small, filthy concrete cage filled with dogs. This was a kind of dog pound in Puerto Ayora, the largest city in the Galapagos. A dog pound? In the Galapagos? Before I visited, I didn’t even realize there were dogs, cats, and other domestic animals in this extraordinary World Heritage Site."
Back then, Tod started with a tiny number of Ecuadorian vets, and a grand total of one veterinary volunteer: Morgan Nabhan. Together, they went to different parts of the Galapagos treating all kinds of animal issues at all hours of the day or night. Morgan was there with him in Galapagos a short time, but by the time she left, she was suturing up dogs that had been gored by wild boars at 7:00am after helping with surgery well past midnight the night before.
It was a tragedy for the people and their animals
According to Emko, "The dogs looked miserable: the concrete floor was covered with urine and feces. There was a magnificent husky, along with many others. What was a husky doing on the equator? One particularly skinny dog sat forlorn in the corner."
Determined to help these dogs, he decided to adopt one. He went to the business office in charge of the pound and was allowed to adopt the skinny dog that didn’t have an owner. However, they required that the dog be neutered before he could be adopted. When he went to pick him up, he hadn’t been neutered yet. he watched as a staff member tried to start the procedure. It turned out that there was no one on staff trained to perform this procedure, and all he could do was watch in horror as the poor dog went through an agonizing two-hour surgery without anesthesia.
When Emko got the dog back to my apartment and gave him food, he didn’t even let him put the bowl down before he ate it all.
"I decided his name would be Hoover." said Emko.
After many sleepless nights of tending to his wounds, Hoover managed to make a full recovery, and he was shipped off to a loving adoptive family in the United States.
But despite his happy ending, Emko couldn’t stop thinking about all the other domestic animals in the Galapagos who had no access to vet care because there weren’t any veterinary hospitals. Without veterinary care there were going to be ever-increasing numbers of unwanted domestic animals and animals suffering because they were accident or poison victims—and this was all in one of the most biodiverse and special places on the planet.
The incredible animals that make up the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, astonishingly, have no fear of humans. This special archipelago is the only place on the planet where people can frolic with pelicans and blue-footed boobie birds, sunbathe with sea lions and marine iguanas, and swim with schools of hammerhead sharks. An influx of people brought an accompanying array of domestic animals, but not vets.
Tod Emko decided to take action. "I realized this was a problem I could do something about. When I got back to the United States, I formed Darwin Animal Doctors, with the mission to provide free veterinary care in the Galapagos and to implement humane education programs to create a kinder world."
Since forming in 2010 as a registered charity in the United States, Darwin Animal Doctors has created a veterinary clinic on Santa Cruz Island, brought vet care to every other populated island in the archipelago, and treated thousands of animals that otherwise would have not had any access to critical vet care, all at no cost.
Last summer, Morgan spent the entire summer operating the clinic full time after recruiting dozens of volunteers from all over the world on the internet. They now have lots of government support, and a permanent clinic on Santa Cruz Island. Morgan has been there through all of it, organizing new volunteers, telling people what to expect, training people at the clinic, leading campaigns throughout all the islands, and helping to make Darwin Animal Doctors the success it is today. In addition, Morgan was awarded the “Student Inspiration Award” by the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School after sharing her vision with a committee of Faculty and administration at the university. Along with the award came a grant of $25,000 to fund the clinic’s need for medicine and equipment for the summer.
It's clear she loves her work. "Working in Galapagos is incredibly rewarding, not just because of the amazing impact we are having on the ecosystem and the community as a whole, but because of the huge difference we can make in the lives of each individual animal and pet owner. Galapagos is a place with extraordinary need and because of that the Galapagos residents are incredibly appreciative of the work we do there. By the end of the summer, I couldn't walk for more than a few blocks without getting a thank you and an update on one of our patients. I'm going back in March 2014 for 3 weeks, and it will be my sixth time in Galapagos."
DAD still needs a lot of help and support, as it is a constantly growing program, but it is active and impactful having spayed a neutered over 1000 dogs and cats in the past two years thanks to tireless, brilliant volunteers like Morgan. Recently, Morgan became the newest board member of Darwin Animal Doctors.
Darwin Animal Doctors’ patients have included native birds, giant land tortoises, sea lions, dogs, cats, goats, horses, every other kind of farm animal, and a Galapagos lava lizard.
To learn more about how you can help one of our earth's most precious places, visit Darwin Animal Doctors.