QUITO Ecuadorian authorities are investigating
the massacre of 53 sea lions in the pristine Galapagos islands
in an incident fueling concerns over the government's capacity
to protect the famous archipelago.
Park rangers found the decomposing sea lions with their
skulls crushed on a remote islet earlier this month and now
reports of tourists meddling with animals are prompting calls
for stricter controls at the U.N. World Heritage site.
Ecuador is already debating whether to limit growing
tourism on Galapagos and has expelled hundreds of illegal
workers there to protect the natural reserve after the United
Nations warned last year that the site was in danger.
"It is obvious the control system has to be greatly
improved," said Luis Suarez, the head of Ecuador's branch of
Conservation International. "We need satellite control to know
where people are, and better police intelligence to know more
about the traffic of species and their organs."
Authorities are unclear why the sea lions were butchered.
Traffickers often kill the animals to take organs in demand for
traditional medicines. But these sea lions were untouched
except for head wounds, officials said.
Ecuador's media also recently criticized local Galapagos
authorities after showing images of one tourist holding a baby
sea lion and another sitting on top of a massive tortoise in a
violation of strict controls at the site.
The volcanic islands, located 650 miles off Ecuador's
coast, inspired British naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution. Centenarian tortoises and blue-footed boobies live
alongside 18,000 islanders who earn a living from fishing and
the tourism industry.
"The growing demand and the tourism market is imposing the
rules of the game," Eliecer Cruz, the governor of Galapagos,
told Reuters. "We are working very hard to look for a new type
of tourism in Galapagos."
(Reporting by Alonso Soto; editing by )