The following is a letter written in 2016 by the founder of the Mazunte Project, Dr. Richard Rodgers, sharing some of the experiences of the team that year.

Turtle Release
Participants from the 2016 trip release baby turtles

As I reflect on our most recent January 2016 trip to Mazunte, I’m sure the highlight was releasing Leatherback and Olive Ridley hatchlings after our last day of surgery. A nest of 50 Leatherbacks and approximately 100 Olive Ridleys had hatched within the last 24 hours. Releasing them and watching them during their march to the sea never gets old.

Other highlights are the collaborations that have developed over the years. The Becker College collaboration is marking its 10th year since the first Becker student joined us. They have formed a Mazunte Club which is very active, and has been successful raising funds for their trips.

Another nucleus of support is coming from Tufts-Walpole. Dr. Steve Fish has been coming down for a number of years, and this year brought with him Dr. Meredith Taylor, the MVMA Mazunte grant recipient, plus surgical techs Kayla Matta and Rachel More. They have been a great addition to the team, and joined Dr. Liz Williamson of Lincoln, MA, Liz’s niece Savannah Snell, Danielle Rose, CVT, and her husband Dave of Michigan, Kailee Ruyack of Becker, and my wife Linda, who acted as translator—forming a formidable team.

The numerical bottom line of the trip was a huge success, since we did 325 spays/neuters, probably 85% of which were spays. This marks the most surgeries we have ever done in one week.

The Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine is a new collaborator being coordinated by Dr. Pierre DePorre. Pierre is an MSU Alum who also marked his 10th trip with us, and is working with MSU to expose more students to international veterinary medicine, as well as developing other collaborations in One Health, public health, and Entomology in this region. Two MSU veterinary students, Genevieve Condon and Samantha Gamble, made this year’s trip.

Msu Students Dr  Reyes
MSU DVM students Samantha Gamble and Genevieve Condon with Dr. Marcelino Reyes.

Pierre has been a member of my team, which also included Pam Griffeth, a CVT/RN from Gilmanton, NH, who has been the lead tech on my team since 2002, Kelsey Guidymin, a Becker student; Genevieve, Samantha, and Chris Petrie, my “consuegro” who has been an integral member of the team since 2008.

Genevieve’s trip was highlighted by finding out she passed the National Boards. Her presence also led to a humorous incident in one of our many remote locations.

Vive is blonde and very fair complected and when we were at the remote Chacahua site, a little girl pointed to her telling her mother Vive was very sick. Her mother said no, Vive wasn’t sick, but the little girl was certain that she was sick. When the mother asked her why she thought she was sick, the little girl replied that she had “white disease.” That brought a big laugh from the crowd of people waiting for their dogs to be spayed or neutered.

Another incident from the same site, reflecting its remoteness, was a little boy who kept staring at Chris. Chris was aware of him staring, but didn’t speak enough Spanish to ask him what he was looking at. One of the dog owners who spoke some English noticed. He told Chris the reason the little boy was staring at him was that the boy had never seen blue eyes before.

Surgical Set Up
Surgical theatre set up within the local community.

It is the light-hearted experiences like these, the visual evidence of poverty, as well as the canine predation, that reinforces the need for the mission. The positive impacts that we see from our efforts in the communities and on the local sea turtle populations, confirm the success of our services.

A reunion with a past Mexican veterinary student who worked with us back in 2003 was brought about through Nancy Fantom reconnecting with Juan Carlos Aguilar on Facebook. Juan Carlos was a vet student volunteering at the Turtle Center in 2003, and is currently a professor at the National University of Mexico Veterinary School and a Clinician at the Veterinary School’s Small Animal Hospital. Juan Carlos offered to join us, and was a welcome addition to Hugh Davis’s and Nancy’s team. It is connections like these that we hope will help us to expand our reach in the future. Other members of Hugh’s team were Pearl Yusuf, formerly Assistant Curator at Zoo New England, who took a sabbatical in Mazunte for 2015, and is returning to the States as Curator of the Utica, NY Zoo; and Annellie Miller and Allison Andrews, both students at Becker College. Allison will be leading next year’s group from Becker.

Dr. Marcelino Lopez, Clinician at the Turtle Center, Professor at the Oaxaca Veterinary School and Director of the Palmarito Sea Turtle Rescue Project, alternated between Hugh’s team and my team, going with whichever team went to the most remote site. His family always has a welcoming dinner for us when we arrive, and a departing tamale party for us when we leave. Tamales are the traditional party food in Oaxaca. These parties have allowed the team members to get to know each other better, and have allowed us to share traditions with our hosts.

Surg Theater 1
Two team members performing sterilization procedure.

The numerical bottom line of the trip was a huge success, since we did 325 spays/neuters, probably 85% of which were spays. This marks the most surgeries we have ever done in one week. The population of the area, both human and canine, is growing, putting more canine predatory pressure on the beaches.

The trips are not all work. The weekends before and after, we try to get in some beach time. We also do a boat trip where we see whales, dolphins, turtles, sailfish, manta rays, and sea snakes, among other marine species. We also do some snorkeling and release the hatchlings.

One of the most gratifying collaborations since 2003 has been the provisions of our surgical supplies, courtesy of Dr. Steve Fisher at VCA, Ken Parish from Henry Schein Animal Health, and Matt Diohep from Covidien. Their support has been a key to our ability to expand our human resources and cover the important beaches.

Also, a thank you to Dave Brown, my Merial Vet Rep who has donated Heartgard, Frontline, Certifect, and Ivomec, assisting our anti-parasite efforts.

The trip is an unforgettable experience, and I invite and encourage you to join us.

—Dr. Richard Rodger, DVM