for National Geographic News
Fifty-three sea lions have been found massacred, nearly all with crushed skulls, on an island in the Galápagos.
The brutal slaying has officials looking for clues and locals calling for tougher controls, especially on the archipelago's uninhabited islands.
Park wardens from Galápagos National Park discovered the bodies while working in early January to remove feral goats from the islands of Floreana, Isabela, Santiago, and Pinta, all part of the famed Galápagos Islands located off Ecuador's Pacific Coast (see map).
On Pinta, a protected island surrounded by the Galápagos Marine Reserve, workers found the dead sea lions "in an advanced state of decomposition," according to Victor Carrion, the park manager.
The animals, nearly all showing signs of being beaten in the head, were distributed within a half-mile (0.8-kilometer) radius in a spot known as Puerto Pasado, Carrion said.
The marine mammals are Galápagos sea lions, listed as a threatened species by The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
They are sometimes hunted for their fur and body parts, particularly penises, which are used to make aphrodisiacs by some practitioners of traditional Asian medicine.
But the dead animals found last month—9 adult males, 6 adult females, 25 "immature sea lions," and 13 pups—bore no signs of cutting or dismemberment, Carrion said.
"One hundred percent of the animals had their skin intact," he said in an email.
"That is to say, we can discard the theory that they were killed for their skin."
Motives a Mystery
What's more, Carrion said the veterinarian who inspected the animals "ruled out evidence that the male sea lions had their genitals extracted."
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