Of Spotted Owls, Fishers, and a Poisoned Dog: Is the Death of a Local Scientist’s Pet an Attempt to Silence His Research?

A dog owned by wildlife biologist, Mourad Gabriel who is researching the effects of rodenticides on fishers and owls was poisoned with a rodenticide. Many people feel the poisoning is related to Gabriel’s work. [Photo of Nyxo, the deceased dog, provided by Mourad Gabriel.]

On Saturday, a story appeared in the LA Times about the death of Nyxo, a dog owned by a local scientist, Mourad Gabriel. Gabriel’s research into the effect on fishers of anticoagulent rodenticides used in trespass marijuana grows has been highlighted on the Lost Coast Outpost (here and here.)

On February 3, Gabriel reported to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office that his dog had been fatally poisoned. According to the press release, a necropsy was performed and “U.C. Davis researchers determined Nyxo died as the result of concentrated Brodifacoum poisoning, which is an anticoagulant found in De-Con [sic] rat bait.” The poisoning was believed to be intentional because the dog had chopped meat in its stomach when Gabriel had only fed it dried dog food. 

In the LA Times’ article, entitled “Was poisoning of scientist’s dog a warning from Humboldt pot growers?,” the article’s author clearly takes the position that the dog’s demise was related to the work of its owner and that a pot grower is most likely the culprit who fed the chopped meat laced with the anticoagulent rodenticide to Nyxo.

The LA Time’s sharelines on the article about Nyxo’s death are meant to encourage readers to post the piece on Facebook and Twitter. They trumpet, “Online comments about the scientist’s rat-poison report warned that ‘snitches wind up in ditches’ “and “Anonymous commenters charged that the Humboldt County scientist was a ‘stooge’ working for law enforcement.”

The piece quotes Daniel T. Blumstein, chairman of UCLA’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, as comparing Mourad Gabriel and Dian Fossey. According to the article, Blumstein stated, “There’s a growing list of environmentalists and researchers who have been killed by going public with something, going back to Dian Fossey, saving gorillas in Rwanda,” he states. Blumstein is then quoted as stating, “It takes a special person to go out and begin reporting these things…I personally would not like to be messing with drug cartels.

That Nyxo’s death was an effort to silence Gabriel’s research is a belief shared by many. A press release from the Center for Biological Diversity about the dog’s poisoning quotes Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity as saying, “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.”

He added, “This tragedy is yet another example of how 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.”

Gabriel’s work points to the use of anticoagulent rodenticides (which cause internal bleeding in animals who ingest the products or ingest other animals who have eaten them) being used on marijuana grows as being a possible contributor to the decline of the fisher species. Nearly 80% of the carcasses of fishers in his study showed exposure to rodenticide.

Gabriel has recently finished more research studying the effects of anticoagulent rodenticides on Barred Owls. He provided the abstract to the Lost Coast Outpost. In the study, the Barred Owl is a proxy for the Northern Spotted Owl which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Barred Owls, Gabriel explained, are the best proxy for the Northern Spotted Owl “due to prey diet and habitat requirement overlaps.” 40% of all the tested owls had been exposed to anticoagulent rodenticides. In addition, 100% of the invertebrates (what most non-scientists would call insects) tested from within trespass grows showed exposure to anticoagulent rodenticide.

“These results demonstrate that [anticoagulent rodenticides] contamination within [Northern Spotted Owl] populations in NW California is likely and that food web contamination for these owls and numerous forest wildlife species is concerning,” stated the study’s abstract.

Whether or not the case has been made that a marijuana grower was the culprit in the death of Nyxo, Gabriel’s work shows a impressive and worrying correlation between the use by trespass growers of anticoagulent rodenticides and the presence of these products in wildlife species–a presence that could be contributing to their decline.

In Southern Humboldt there has been significant success is getting local stores to remove anticoagulent rodenticides from their shelves as a result of a local organization, Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Rat Poison, educating the business owners on the damage these products can do.  In addition, as of July 1, California has tightened the rules on these products. A new law prohibits the sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides over the counter. Now only certified professionals will be able to employ these products in this state.



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