Bringing you stories about California's wildlife, the threats they face, and the value they bring us.

Rat Poison Researcher's Dog Poisoned In Apparent Retaliation

Nyxo, poisoned February 3 in Humboldt County | Photo: Mourad Gabriel

Bad news for a Northern California toxicologist studying the effects of rat poison on the state's wildlife: his dog was apparently killed in an act of retaliation for his work, poisoned by the same highly toxic chemical whose effects the man had been studying.

Mourad Gabriel has been conducting research into the effects of the rat poison brodifacoum on California wildlife such as Pacific fishers and northern spotted owls. The poison is often used at illegal marijuana grow sites to control rodents, but makes its way up the food chain to kill animals that dine on the dead rodents.

Gabriel's rescue dog Nyxo, who diligently accompanied him on field work, died suddenly on February 3 after becoming acutely ill at the family's home near Blue Lake. A necropsy showed that Nyxo had apparently been deliberately fed red meat laced with brodifacoum. And now a leading wildlife protection organization is offering a $2,500 reward for any information leading to the apprehension of the persons responsible.

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I've discussed the effects of brodifacoum on wildlife in significant depth here at KCET in the past. It's not an easy way to die.

"The evidence strongly suggests that this malicious poisoning is tied to Dr. Gabriel's research and if that is true we condemn the use of violence to silence any scientist, researcher or citizen whose work aims to conserve wildlife," said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is offering the reward. "The reckless use and sale of these poisons is ruining lives by indiscriminately killing pets and wildlife. It's time to permanently ban these poisons."

Attacks on scientists' or activists' household pets by opponents of their work are nothing new. David Helvarg's book "The War Against The Greens" offers a distressing number of examples, including this:

Antitoxics activist Paula Siemers remembers the night two men attacked and knifed her on a Cincinnati street near her home, following earlier incidents of harassment in which she'd been stoned and knocked unconscious, her dog had been poisoned, and her house too had been set on fire.

A 1992 article by Jonathan Franklin published in The Muckraker detailed over a hundred violent attacks on environmental activists in the previous four years. Franklin's article was entitled "First, they kill your dog," after a regrettable commonality in the attacks. If Gabriel's dog was indeed killed as an act of retaliation for his research into brodifacoum and wildlife, it would be a sad indication that the most extreme opponents of wildlife protection haven't changed much since 1992.

"Nyxo was a handsome rescue dog who accompanied us on many research projects," said Gabriel. "Whether we were studying the mountain yellow-legged frog or spotted owl, he always had an inquisitive demeanor and vigorous spirit while joining us on conservation projects."

The Humboldt County Sheriff's office is asking for help in tracking down the assailants. Anyone with information about Nyxo's poisoning is encouraged to contact the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff's Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.

A personal note: This story hits hard. Nyxo died on the seventh anniversary of the loss of my dog Zeke, who was also subject to threats due to my writing and activism. Dr. Gabriel and his family have my deepest sympathy.

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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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