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Group Calls for State Investigation Into Poisoning of Wildlife Researcher's Dog

Meanwhile, the campaign to ban rat poisons continues | Photo: Mike Licht/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A national wildlife protection group is urging California's Attorney General to mount an investigation into the poisoning death of a dog belonging to a leading researcher into the effects of rat poisons on wildlife.

As we reported earlier this year, wildlife scientist Mourad Gabriel was apparently targeted for retaliation on February 3 when someone unknown gave his dog Nyxo meat poisoned with the anticoagulant rat poison brodifacoum. Nyxo died of internal hemorrhaging hours later.

Wildlife activists have long suspected that the poisoning was an attempt to intimidate Gabriel from continuing his research into the effect on wildlife of rat poison use at illegal marijuana grows throughout the state. On Thursday, the Center For Biological Diversity urged Attorney General Kamala Harris to launch a formal investigation into the poisoning, and provided her with messages from 55,000 people urging likewise.

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"Thousands of Californians are demanding justice for this malicious poisoning and we condemn the use of violence to silence any scientist, researcher or citizen whose work aims to conserve wildlife," said CBD toxics and endangered species campaign director Jonathan Evans in a press statement.

Anticoagulant rat poisons are often used by managers of pot grow sites to keep local wildlife from raiding or damaging their crops. Gabriel's work has revealed that such illegal use is potentially responsible for poisoning of threatened and endangered animals such as the Pacific fisher and the northern spotted owl.

Anticoagulant rat poisons work by causing internal bleeding, and they are broken down only very slowly by metabolic processes. When a poisoned animal is eaten by another, the second animal essentially ingests all the poison its meal had consumed. And as predators and scavengers may eat many poisoning victims, the amount of poison they ingest over time can become quite high. Since anticoagulant rat poisons offered in bait form can take several days to kill target rodents, and a rat or mouse is likely to feed on the bait several times before succumbing, the animals who eat them can ingest far more poison than would have been necessary simply to kill its meal.

A statewide ban on retail sales of some anticoagulant rat poisons went into effect on July 1, but the poisons are still available wholesale to exterminators and agricultural companies. Meanwhile, as many as 70 percent of wild animals tested in California turn out to have been exposed to the pesticides.

Which may well be consigning large numbers of California's wild predators and scavengers to fates like Nyxo's. "Nyxo was a handsome, inquisitive rescue dog who was at my side on many research projects," said Gabriel. "His death, like the deaths of so many wild animals, was so unnecessary."

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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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