In 2009, wildlife disease expert Dr. Mourad Gabriel was doing field research high in the Sierra mountain range, not far from Yosemite National Park, when he came upon a dead Pacific fisher. The long, slender, weasel-like rodent did not appear to be the victim of any sort of predator attack, showing no outward signs of distress, damage, or disease. But when Gabriel and his team got the animal back to the lab for further inspection, they found its chest cavity completely full of blood.
Up until that point, the researchers had never seen or heard of anything like it. In late January of this year, one of Gabriel’s family dogs, a black lab by the name of Nyxo, was found dead at the doctor’s home in Arcata, in northern California. When his pet was cut open to determine the cause of its sudden and mysterious death, it too had a chest cavity engulfed in blood. Now as Julie Cart reports for the LA Times, Dr. Gabriel is speaking out.
When the dead fisher was discovered in 2009, Gabriel’s team eventually determined that it had somehow ingested a lethal dose of a certain rat poison so toxic that it is not available for sale to the general public.
He and his team’s interest was especially peaked since the Pacific fisher was recommended to be added to the national endangered species list just this year, as their numbers have dwindled to around 2,000. So, where were they getting into the poison?
Working backwards, he and his team re-tested every tissue sample that they had collected from the animal in the region going back to 2005, and sure enough, 80% of them showed at least trace amounts of rat poison in their systems. Some of them had as many as five different types of poison in their bloodstream, but none were found with actual bait or poison in their stomachs at the time they were collected.
The scientists realized that the fishers were picking up the poison by eating mice and rats that had ingested the toxins directly. Further, they found that the numbers of dead, poisoned rats and mice seemed to peak each year in the spring, right around the same time that the notorious and numerous illegal marijuana growing operations start to sprout their vulnerable seedlings in the surrounding mountains.
The researchers concluded that the deer mice and other pests that plague outdoor weed grows were being poisoned to deter them from the young crops, then passing their toxic tissue on to the next predator up the chain, and so on.
Researchers even found five different types of insects in the region that tested positive for the poison, as well as two local bears and some spotted owls.
Disgusted at the lack of respect for the ecosystem, Gabriel released a report on his findings in 2012, directly implicating the illegal pot growing sites and those who operate them, and according to him, that’s when the harassment began.
Comments on website articles warned that “snitches wind up in ditches”, and inquiries about his home address were traced back to Mexico, leading him to believe that he may have landed on the radar of some powerful drug cartel.
But the real message was sent when Nyxo, the family dog, was found dead of symptoms all too familiar to the doc. In over three months since it occurred, with a $20,000 reward being offered for any information, exactly zero leads have surfaced in the case.
As Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey admits, “We have an old-time saying in Humboldt County, ‘Our hills contain a lot of things we don’t know about'”.
Even since the death of his dog, his home lab has been broken into, but Gabriel vows to continue his research.