(CMR) Feral cat control operations in Little Cayman resumed this month following a settlement agreement between the Cayman Islands Government and local animal welfare charities Feline Friends and the Cayman Islands Humane Society.
The project which started in 2018 was halted by a temporary injunction obtained by Feline Friends and the Humane Society.
After more than three years of negotiations, the animal charities agreed to close the matter through payment of their legal costs, which amounted to CI$25,000. Cabinet approved the settlement to ensure invasive species management in the Sister Islands could resume in earnest.
Ministry of Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn said the control measures are essential to protecting threatened native and endemic fauna in the Sister Islands from the threat of predation, competition, and hybridization.
“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. A protracted battle through the Courts would have only prolonged the suffering of our native species and the feral cats while amounting to significant legal fees for all parties,” Mrs. Ahearn said.
“We respect the important work our local animal welfare charities do to prevent animal suffering and reduce the number of homeless pets in our community. This settlement allows Government to close out this matter so our environmental experts can progress our conservation aims in the Sister Islands.”
Following the settlement, a team from the Department of Environment (DoE) and Department of Agriculture (DoA) traveled to Little Cayman to register and microchip domestic, companion cats, prior to recommencing feral cat control operations.
Six nights of trapping resulted in the capture of 40 cats; including four registered domestic, companion cats which were returned to their owners. Trapped cats were attended by the DoA’s Senior Veterinary Officer each morning, with assistance from the DoE. All trapped cats were carefully scanned in the trap to verify their identity. Registered pet cats that were trapped, scanned for a microchip and, had their identity verified, were released back to their owner’s care.
A representative of the Cayman Islands Humane Society observed all aspects of the control operations, which were conducted humanely.
In 2022, 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 to 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 several other invasive species negatively impacting 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. The Darwin Grant funding will allow us to improve our inter-island biosecurity efforts and safeguard our Sister Islands' unique biodiversity.”
Part of the efforts will include estimating cat population density using wildlife cameras and a feasibility study to determine if eradication of feral cats from Little Cayman is technically, socially and economically possible.
Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick said the Department is a proud partner in local biosecurity efforts and also encouraged pet owners to be part of the solution.
“We each have a role to play as individuals to support local biosecurity efforts. 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,” he said.
The Government said the settlement will not impact its forecast financial performance for the 2022 financial year and will not increase overall planned expenditure.