Darwin Animal Doctors


People behind Darwin Animal Doctors

Galapagos Team:

Dr. Carmen Barba Claassens

Dr. Carmen Barba Claassens – Chief Surgeon

Carmen was born in Goirle, the Netherlands. As a child, she was always busy trying to save and help animals, bringing home wandering dogs and wounded birds, petting every animal that crossed her path. It was inevitable that when she grew up, she went into veterinary medicine. She began to study Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University, graduating in 2012. After graduation, she worked for two years in an all-round clinic in Veenendaal, the Netherlands, which she enjoyed very much. But there was always this feeling that she could do something more, to make her talent more useful for the animals that needed it the most. So in June 2015, she quit her job and traveled to Asia, where she helped animals in need in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. Knowing DAD board member Dr. Jochem Lastdrager from the time they studied together, she was very interested in the work he was doing in the Galapagos. When he told her they needed a veterinarian for 2016, she said yes and signed up for this new challenge!

Rene Heyer

Rene Heyer

Born in Zurich, Switzerland and educated in Geneva, he studied business administration and hospitality, graduating from the Hotel School of Geneva. His first international contract within the hotel industry was with a major chain in Thailand followed by further management experience in Mexico and all over the world within the cruise ship industry. Later on in his career he studied financial management & sales and marketing techniques at Cornell University in USA. Rene speaks fluent English, German, French & Spanish with some knowledge of Italian.

Following a career move to the Galapagos Islands in 2000, Rene became interested in local island communities and created the Nova Galapagos Foundation to inspire and engage their interest in the heritage and future of Galapagos through the promotion of education on the islands. During 5 years as a general manager, based in Ecuador and Galapagos, he became aware of the growing threats to the islands’ unique natural environment and wildlife by tourism development and increasing population stress.

Reflecting on his early days in Switzerland and 30 years of working in international tourism, he realized that the long term success of the future protection of the Galapagos islands was in the hands of the islands’ next generation, the youth of Galapagos.

Rene’s wife, Susan from Wales, UK, studied Marine Biology and Oceanography at University and dreamt of one day diving around the famous archipelago. While living for several years in the South West of France, enjoying the rural life and her beloved labrador Emma, she taught English to the Airbus engineers from Toulouse and made regular trips to Galapagos to join her husband Rene on the islands and explored the fascinating underwater world surrounding the islands. Due to the poor health of her mother, she returned to the UK where she keeps in touch with the development of the Nova Galapagos Foundation and Darwin Animal Doctors.

Mayra Alvarez

Mayra Alvarez

Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador she grew up in a very modest environment, her grandmother taking care of her until she finished school. Mayra was keen to continue studying, but unfortunately she was unable to do so as she had to take care of her brother and sister, which is unfortunately a great problem in Latin America.

In her search to improve life, she moved to Galapagos where she was able to settle down and earn enough to survive and help her family.

In the Galapagos, Mayra is invaluable to DAD. She processes the necessary paperwork to give all our volunteers legal volunteer status in the Galapagos, while working daily to make sure our clinic is up to code, from proper biohazard medical waste disposal to all the required safety permits. Outside the clinic, Mayra does outreach to the community, telling more and more people why spay/neuter is so crucially important on the Galapagos, so they start using our services. On campaigns, Mayra is the vital link between our volunteers and the community they serve, interacting with both to make sure there is maximum understanding between both parties. And now, Mayra is learning (through DAD mentors) how to become a vet assistant herself!

Global Team:

Tod Emko

Tod Emko – President and Founder

Tod Emko is a conservationist from New York City. He came to Galapagos for the first time in 2008, serving with an international marine conservation group. While working to protect the marine reserve, Tod fell in love with the islands and wanted to ensure the survival of its amazing and important animals. He soon saw that veterinarians were in dire need in the Galapagos, where many introduced dangers threatened the local biosphere. He started Darwin Animal Doctors to fill the void and bring qualified vets to Galapagos to help all animals of the islands.

Andrea Gordon – Chairman of the Board of Directors

Andrea dedicates herself to saving lives and working for the public good. As a lawyer, she litigated for a nonprofit organisation in New York City for a number of years after earning her B.A. From Duke University and J.D. From Washington College of Law.

After visiting the Galapagos Islands as part of a marine conservation project, Andrea became passionate about protecting this extraordinary World Heritage Site and the animals living there. She utilizes her experience in law, nonprofit organizations and wildlife conservation to save the animals of the Galapagos.

Morgan Nabhan – Member, Board of Directors

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and of Boston University for her undergraduate biology degree. During her time at BU, she spent two years conducting research on the ecology and physiology of bats. She was introduced to Ecuador and the Galapagos in 2008 after spending a semester living there and studying tropical ecology. While living and traveling throughout Ecuador, she realized the huge need for veterinary care in the Galapagos.

Morgan organizes veterinary supplies donations, campaigns, and outreach in the US and travels to work in the Darwin Animal Doctors clinic during her time off. She is currently working as a feline veterinarian at a private practice in Philadelphia as well as working in three of Philadelphia’s shelters 1-2 times a month.

Terry Stone – Member, Board of Directors

A retired business professional, Terry worked for two organizations during his 37 years in industry, Union Carbide Corporation and Syngenta Corporation. Terry’s career, all of which was in the Human Resource discipline (including but not limited to, labor negotiations/arbitration,
dispute resolution, benefit design/implementation, project management, new venture projects and employee management), took him to nine different locations in six different states and afforded him a vast array of life experiences.

Terry received his degree from the State University of New York at Brockport. He continues to expand his life experiences through volunteerism, serving on several Boards, including Darwin Animal Doctors and the Executive Pension Board for New Castle County, Delaware and investigating new business ventures. Socially and environmentally responsible and an animal activist for many years, Terry has demonstrated a great passion for whatever he does… after visiting the Galapagos Islands as a volunteer for Darwin Animal Doctors, he is focusing his attention on education regarding the care and treatment of animals in Third World Countries.

Dr. Jochem J. Lastdrager

Dr. Jochem J. Lastdrager – Member, Board of Directors

As a child growing up in the Netherlands, Jochem was always taking care of animals. Whether the animal was small or large, domesticated or wild, Jochem could always be counted upon to provide care and support.

In high school he had already made up my mind that he would invest whatever time or effort necessary to go to a university so that he could become a veterinarian. In September of 2012, attending the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, Jochem realized his life-long dream.

Doing internships and volunteer work at a variety of nature conservation organizations he gained knowledge about the world of managing environmental non-profit organizations.

During his final years in veterinarian medical school, Jochem realized that for him, helping animals should not be limited to a single vet practice. So whilst at University, Jochem knew that rather than just treating pets belonging to responsible and committed owners, he wanted to commit his talents to helping neglected and abandoned animals whose owners cannot afford such service and in many cases may not even have access to veterinarian services.

So in addition to helping domesticated animals, Jochem has afforded his talents and dedicated his life to helping all animals, wild and domesticated, through their suffering and he strives to bring a voice to the Animal Kingdom that cannot speak for themselves.

This is Jochem’s calling; his mission.

Dr. Lorelei Wakefield

Dr. Lorelei Wakefield – Veterinary Advisor, USA

New York City animal welfare veterinarian Lorelei Wakefield works with non-profit organizations (NGO’s) to provide expert opinions on pressing issues. She collaborates with media to help educate the public on topics such as vegetarian diets for companion animals, factory farming, hoarding, animal cruelty and dog / cat overpopulation. Dr. Wakefield founded the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Animal Welfare Society, a group that organizes educational sessions for veterinary students. Currently, she provides veterinary care and consulting services for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She is also a relief and house call veterinarian in NYC.

Julia Szabo – Chief of Media

An expert at spotting the trends that really matter to Spot – especially the life-or-death topic of health – Julia Szabo is your pet’s Wellness Watchdog. Count on her to bring you the scoop on the cutting edge of high-tech and alternative medicine for pets.

Julia pens the daily “Living With Dogs” column for www.dogster.com and is a frequent contributor to Cesar’s Way magazine and Pajamas Media. The author of six pet lifestyle books, she frequently answers callers’ questions live on Martha Stewart Radio’s “Morning Living.” Julia’s writings on pets have been published in The New York Times “T” Magazine, The New Yorker, Town & Country, Traditional Home, Country Living, Travel + Leisure, Interview, The Bark, Fido Friendly, and The New York Post, where she penned the influential “Pets” column every week for 11 years.

Sam Sielen

Sam Sielen – Visual Media Coordinator

From the busy downtown streets of New York City to the freezing waters of Antarctica and the remote islands of the Galapagos, Sam Sielen has been there with a camera capturing historical moments.

After graduating with honors and a BFA in film from his hometown University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Sam moved to New York City where he worked full time in the Visual Evidence Unit at the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan filming crime scenes, editing footage for use in court, testifying and managing thousands of hours worth of video on a regular basis.

Wanting to do more for this planet, Sam joined Sea Shepherd where he regularly produced a variety of video and photo content year round for web and media distribution. Sam soon joined the Whale Wars team, and has been Director of Photography for the show on Animal Planet for two consecutive years.

He has been a camera operator for the Discovery show Tech Toys 360, as well as for the feature length documentary about childhood cancer, The Truth 365. In between projects, Sam works a video consultant providing expertise on workflow, gear, technical or creative assistance.
His passion stems from wanting to share world-changing stories. With a focus on animal welfare and environmental issues, Sam knows there is no shortage of stories to be told!

Sara Flowers

Sara Flowers – Merchandise and Social Media

Born and raised in a small central Illinois town, Sara has been saving animals since she was 5 years old when she brought home a newborn calf that was rejected by it’s mother in the middle of winter. Since then she has rescued many other animals from the meat industry (mainly rabbits) and has relocated to New York City.

She started baking when she was 3, and is now the head baker for all DAD fundraisers and works for the top food truck in the US. Her favorite things to bake are cookies and cupcakes.

Sara’s comic book podcast led to her running the online store for “A Piggy’s Tale”. She loves posting fun facts about the Galapagos, animal wellness tips and cute animal pictures on all of DAD’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

Sarah Jane Wang

Sarah Jane Wang – Community and Local Volunteer Development

Born in the UK, Sarah studied Youth and Community work, Education and Development Studies. Sarah has over 18 years experience in youth participation and community development and education. Her work has taken her to Russia, China, USA, South Korea, Bahrain, France and New Zealand. Sarah has managed a variety of award winning youth participatory programs which enable young people to explore issues and express their views through creative platforms in order to effect change in their communities. Sarah has been involved in a variety of conservation projects and was an integral part of a Shark Expedition in Bahrain filming the documentary ‘Short Time Dying.’ More recently Sarah was an Academic Director in Beijing, China developing community outreach programs and such as Eco Ambassadors and Street Teach. Sarah has a keen interest in Island Communities and is keen to protect animals and support community education. She utilizes her expertise in youth participation, community development and education and is excited to be part of this global team.


Piggy – Spokesdog & Educational Mascot

Piggy is our 3-legged rescue pup who stars in DAD’s humane education superhero comic, A Piggy’s Tale! He is our daily inspiration for ensuring all animals of the Galapagos have access to life-saving medical care.


Simon – DAD’s first patient and Piggy’s sidekick

Simon was our very first patient, a sick, tiny kitten who was determined to survive the streets! He is now Piggy’s sidekick in New York City.