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Reward Increases for Clues in Poisoning of Biologist's Pet Dog

Nyxo | Photo: Mourad Gabriel

There are still no answers as to who poisoned a pet dog belonging to a scientist studying rat poisons' effect on wildlife, but enviros are hoping that an increased reward will bring leads in the case.

Nyxo, a dog who belonged to California scientist Mourad Gabriel, died February 3 in what seems to have been attempted retribution over Gabriel's investigation of rat poison use at illegal pot farms. When we first reported on Nyxo's death in February a $2,500 reward had been posted for any information leading to an arrest. Thanks to a donation to the reward fund by the Center for Biological Diversity and Animal Legal Defense Fund, that reward now stands at $20,000 (and growing if more donations come in).

"Poor Nyxo was a beautiful rescue dog and did not deserve to suffer and die," said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. "We hope this substantial reward offer will help Humboldt law enforcement track down the dangerous individual at large who could do such a thing to a helpless family pet."

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As devastating as the loss of his beloved dog must have been, Gabriel continues to work on the proliferating use of rat poisons at California's illegal grow sites, which -- as mentioned in a recent article in Mother Jones -- now account for a third of the pot seized by law enforcement nationwide.

Such seizures are, of course, part of the reason the grows are illegal in the first place: if the relatively benign drug wasn't mostly banned in the first place, there'd be no need for pot plants to be grown illegally -- often on public lands -- and growers would be able to avail themselves of county agricultural extension services for help in controlling animal pests rather than strewing bags of bioaccumulative rat poisons around the state's forests.

A Pacific fisher. | Photo: Courtesy USFS

Gabriel's work has been instrumental in revealing the threats of such sub-rosa agricultural operations' use of rat poisons pose to animals such as the Pacific fisher. But his exposure of a seamy underbelly of the pot industry brought him harassment from a demographic with vague environmental sympathies who might have lauded his work had the industry whose damage he'd exposed been more along the lines of logging or mining. As that Mother Jones piece says:

In 2012, after Gabriel published his rat poison results, he was the target of angry calls and messages. One person accused him of helping the feds "greenwash the war on drugs." Another made vague threats against his family and his dogs. Gabriel also received a prying email, later traced by federal agents to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, soliciting the locations of his home, office, and field study sites. In Lost Coast Outpost and other local news sites, commenters shared links to his home address. "Snitches end up in ditches," one warned.

Given the ludicrous overreaction to cannabis growers and users by the American legal system over the last century, a bit of paranoia about the motives of critics of the cannabis industry is understandable. But since the Pacific fisher story broke in 2012, the level of sheer denialism I've seen from people who refuse to believe that there could be anything wrong with any aspect of the production of their drug of choice is troubling. (I've been accused of being a "shill for Big Pharma" for merely reposting a link to the earlier story about Nyxo on Facebook, for instance, and the Facebook comments on Mother Jones' story this week are startlingly vituperative.)

Protip: when your cannabis culture heroes poison pet dogs and issue public threats to make their point, it's time to rethink your world view.

If you think you may have information about Nyxo's poisoning, contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund at or the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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