Feral cat issue settled, control project restarts

The dispute lasted for more than three years but the NPOs agreed to quit the fight earlier this year after the Cayman Islands Government agreed to pick up their legal tab of CI$25,000. Cabinet recently approved the settlement to ensure that invasive species management in the Sister Islands could resume in earnest.

Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn said the Ministry of Sustainability respected the important work local animal welfare organizations do to prevent animal suffering and reduce the number of homeless pets in our community but the conservation aims of the control measures are essential.

“At the heart of this matter is the urgent need to protect vulnerable species, such as the red-footed booby and the endemic Sister Islands rock iguana, from going extinct because of invasive predators,” she said. “A protracted battle through the courts would have only prolonged the suffering of our native species and the feral cats while amounting significant legal fees for all parties.”

A team from the Department of Environment (DoE) and Department of Agriculture (DoA) has already gone to Little Cayman and started registering and chipping domestic cats, prior to recommencing the feral control work.

After six nights of trapping, 40 cats were netted, including four registered pets. The trapped cats were attended by the DoA’s senior veterinary officer each morning, with assistance from the DoE. All trapped cats were carefully scanned to verify their identity. Registered pet cats that were trapped were scanned for a microchip, and after their identity was verified, they were released back to their owner’s care. A representative of the Cayman Islands Humane Society was also there to observe all aspects of the control operations, which were conducted humanely.

The invasive species management work has received international funding for this year after the DoE was awarded a CI$535,000 Darwin Grant in partnership with the DoA, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the University of Aberdeen. This money will help establish more solid biosecurity protocols and implement effective invasive species management in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman through increased capacity, improved knowledge and community engagement.

Although the legal dispute focused on feral cats, DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said there are a number of other invasive species negatively impacting the Sister Islands’ flora and fauna.

“While feral cats and green iguanas are perhaps the most obvious threats to our native and endemic fauna, other species like rats can also have significant negative impacts,” she said. “The Darwin Grant funding will allow us to improve our inter-island biosecurity efforts and safeguard our Sister Islands’ unique biodiversity.”

This will include estimating cat population density using wildlife cameras and a feasibility study to determine if the eradication of feral cats from Little Cayman is technically, socially and economically possible.

Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick also encouraged pet owners to be part of the solution. “We each have a role to play as individuals to support local biosecurity efforts,” he said. “One example is not attempting to illegally or improperly import food or plants into the country that could bring with them invasive pests or harmful diseases. Another is responsible pet ownership. Please spay and neuter your pets to prevent the creation of feral cat colonies and reduce the burden on local shelters.”

The original control programme, a joint initiative between the DoA and the DoE, started in 2018 because of the increasing predation by feral cats. But the NPOs obtained a court injunction to stop it. Efforts to reach an agreement outside of the courts were unsuccessful, and in November last year government moved to have the issue listed for a hearing. In February 2022, Feline Friends and the Humane Society presented the opportunity to bring closure to the matter through payment of their legal costs to date.

Officials said the settlement will not impact the government’s forecast financial performance for the 2022 financial year and will not increase the overall planned expenditure.

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