Magazine article Earth Island Journal

To Free a Dolphin

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

To Free a Dolphin

Article excerpt

GUATEMALA -- It was bizarre, trying to convince people of the importance of freeing dolphins when, at the same time, 78 of the country's most dangerous prisoners had just fled the state's highest security prison. But that's what our group MadreSelva (Mother Forest) was up to, after discovering a group of dolphins living in a filthy pool in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas, in the shadow of the majestic Agua Volcano, nearly 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level -- a beautiful location, but not for cetaceans!

This story began when Ruben and Ricardo Roca started Water Land, a travelling animal show that hauled dolphins, sea lions and other marine animals across Mexico, through Central America and all the way to Venezuela and Colombia. Many of the animals reportedly died along the way.

Alerted by a phone call, we drove to Santa Lucia and found four dolphins in a foul-smelling pool. We immediately contacted CONAP, the federal agency that handles wildlife permits. CONAP officials told us that they knew the Rocas, since the brothers had imported and exported dolphins. But when we asked to see the required certificates, CONAP told us that there was a slight problem -- two of the dolphins had no papers.

The Rocas spirited two of the dolphins out of the country When CONAP issued an arrest warrant for the Rocas, charging them with illegal wildlife trafficking, they fled the country as well. That left CONAP with two remaining dolphins and a big problem.

Since there are no dolphin experts in Guatemala, our wildlife authorities decided to donate the animals to a local zoo. At this point, MadreSelva contacted the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), which called in Rick O'Barry (the original trainer of TV's "Flipper," who has since become one of the world's most militant campaigners in the fight to free captive dolphins). …

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