The Mazunte Project

From Dr. Pierre DePorre: 

When Mexico outlawed the harvesting of sea turtles in 1990, several species were critically endangered. Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico was one of the largest centers for sea turtle harvesting and processing. The local economy was dependent on the sea turtle trade, and had to quickly pivot to ecotourism, with an emphasis on sea turtles, dolphins, and whales.

The veterinary community played a role in the transition. By 2001, sea turtles were beginning to make a comeback along the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, but a major stumbling block were the packs of feral dogs living on the beaches and surviving on turtle eggs, hatchlings, and adult sea turtles, and deterring tourism.

Marcelino Lopez Reyes, DVM of the Mexican National Sea Turtle Center in Mazunte reached out to Richard Rodger, DVM, a volunteer in the Samoa Project, a successful spay/neuter campaign in the Dominican Republic. Rich and Marcelino created the Mazunte Project, a volunteer group of DVMs and veterinary nurses, and started providing free spay/neuter and other health services to underserved villages located on or near critical turtle nesting beaches.

The project has grown since 2001 to form multiple surgical teams. The latest campaigns in November 2022 and January 2023 visited 27 villages, provided 31 days of canine and feline sterilization and anti-parasitics to over 1000 patients!

As a result of these yearly campaigns, there has been a significant improvement in the quality of life of the canine and feline populations, and few to no feral dogs now roam the beaches. The project also provides educational opportunities to many. Through spoken word and videos, the communities served are exposed to the importance of veterinary care, its role in disease prevention, and the balance of ecosystems. The project also provides valuable surgical and shelter medicine experience to veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary nursing students.

Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine began participating in the project in 2016 with 2 veterinary students. In this campaign, MSU was represented by 4 faculty DVMs, 1 faculty LVT, 6 senior veterinary students and 2 veterinary nursing students. The campaign was very fortunate to also be joined by DVM faculty from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

Recent DVM graduates from Luxemburg and The School of Veterinary Medicine at the Universitad Autonoma “Benito Juarez” de Oaxaca (UABJO) also volunteered, and received excellent instruction and experience.

Having participated in this campaign for 18 years, I have witnessed the positive impact this project has had on animals, people, and turtles; It has shown me what a like-minded group of people can accomplish. It has evolved since 2001 from one small group of DVMs darting packs of feral dogs and performing surgeries on the beach, to 5 mobile surgical teams visiting villages along the turtle nesting beaches.

I would like to thank MVMA’s Michigan Animal Health Foundation for the educational grants that they have provided to support the involvement of Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. MSU CVM’s participation and the continued support of dedicated volunteers gives me hope that the project will continue and flourish. The Mazunte Project is a community outreach of the a 501(c) (3)

For further information, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

- Dr. Pierre DePorre