Our Mission began after visiting the beautiful islands of the Las Perlas (Pearl) Archipelago in June. Some of the islands are completely uninhabited, where others have small villages scattered along the coast. We quickly realized that the animals and people in the islands were in desperate need of a veterinarian – the closest clinic being located a 40 nautical mile journey by sea. We also saw that the local people live with very little and could not afford the high costs of city veterinary care, but many of them cared for the local animals and did not want the population increasing further.
Our original mission was to spay and neuter 75 animals at three different Islands – Isla del Rey, Pedro Gonzales and Viveros. But like many best laid plans ours were about to change!
Our first stop was Isla Viveros where we had hoped to catch and desex the wild cats that were rumoured to wander the island. We set up our clinic on the first day bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for our first patients! We had one patient that day… a fighting rooster with a neck wound! Two days later with no cats in our traps and no other patients I was feeling a bit disheartened that perhaps the locals were not as interested in our clinic as we had hoped… at 7am the next morning we heard a boat arriving and looked out the window to see six dogs and their owners climbing out ready for surgery! It had taken some time for the word to spread but we were kept nice and busy from then on.
During our 10 days and nights trying to catch cats we managed to only wrangle two… both young males that had been found on the island and have since become much loved pets. We never saw or caught another cat during our time there, despite trying tuna, chicken, dog food and even fresh caught fish! Either the cats are not as numerous as we had heard or they only frequent the densest jungle of the island. But we still managed to spay all of the female dogs living on island, with a beautiful ocean backdrop and a sea breeze it was a surgery clinic to be remembered!
Next we were off to San Miguel, the largest village in the Las Perlas located on Isla del Rey. San Miguel was not originally on our list of villages to visit but the locals had heard we were in the area and were desperate for help with their dog population problem. The village of San Miguel has around 1,500-2000 people living there, and we estimate just over 100 dogs! The dogs in these villages live around people’s houses, but many are not owned or treated as pets. It was difficult work in San Miguel – we had children crowding the surgery area, reggaetón music blasting our eardrums and many difficult cases – dogs with deformities, severe infections and even a case where a dog had been completely paralysed for over a week after being hit by a car. But it was also extremely rewarding – with 90 animals treated in this location alone it was amazing to know we made a true and lasting difference to the animals of this region. We heard from the villages that we had spayed every female dog, except those with very young puppies or who were heavily pregnant.
We continued our journey around Isla del Rey and were planning on spending a few days relaxing on a tiny uninhabited island – Espiritu Santos (Holy Spirit). This island is rumoured to hold special spiritual significance to the locals, with small religious idols hidden amongst the trees. Exploring the beautiful beach Joel suddenly exclaimed “I think I found a turtle!”. Our friend from White Spot Pirates was travelling with us, and with her knife we managed to cut a juvenile turtle free from a tangled mess of fishing line and rope.
Billie is a hawksbill turtle, they are critically endangered and so we knew we had to do everything we could to save her life. Billie had a huge cut into her neck, a cut down to the bone of her right front flipper and an open fracture of both the tibia and fibula in the right hind flipper. We performed emergency surgery on the boat, Joel monitoring the anaesthesia; Nike helping with filming and turtle positioning; and me performing the most make shift fracture repair of my career! Using a needle I managed to pin the tibia back into place, before cleaning and suturing her injuries closed. Billie is now on day 14 of her recovery and is at a special turtle facility in Panama City where she can start practising her swimming. Having a turtle on board was an experience in itself and we will write a special blog post on Billie and her recovery soon. Learn more about Billie’s recue in Episode 28.
Our final stop was the beautiful village of Ensenada. With a population of only 50 people there is almost half a dog for every human! The locals were beyond excited about having the first ever veterinarian come to their village. It was also wonderful to see some of the dogs we had already spayed in San Miguel – their owners travelling the 8 mile journey in a small boat when they had heard there was a vet visiting. We gave all of the dogs injections for parasite control and spayed the remaining 4 females, and two young males, which will prevent any further puppies being born in this village.
It was at this point we started running out of supplies! Although we had calculated for over 75 animals we were expecting a mix of dogs and cats, and more castrations. In general cats take less time and weigh a lot less, meaning less medication is used and castrations also take less time then spays. So in the end, although our surgery numbers were not as high as expected, we managed to spay every female dog in three different locations which will not have a lasting effect on the number of dogs in the village but also help reduce future disease prevalence, help save local wildlife and put less strain on the community.
But we did not want to leave the island of Pedro Gonzales without veterinary care, so we are very happy to inform you all Spay Panama will be going to the village later this year to ensure all of the animals are desexed.
All in all it was a chaotic roller coaster of a time in the Perlas! We swam with whales, saved a turtle and changed the lives of over 100 animals.
We did not achieve this on our own – the incredible work we have done has been supported by so many and we would like to thank all of our patrons and donators for this mission, as well as Family Member Vet and Spay Panama for their ongoing support.
If you would like to see the episodes from our amazing time in Las Perlas check them out: