Department of Environmental Death?

| 07/04/2021 | 43 Comments

Green Hornet writes: Last month a polite young Caymanian came to my door, clipboard in hand, and asked me if I’d like him to put poison in my coconut trees. The reason, he told me, was to get rid of those pesky coconut rats which, he said, were causing a serious problem. He was, he said, from the Department of Environmental Health (DEH), which had deemed it necessary to rid us of those pesky rats.

I told him, equally politely, that our cats would take care of any rat problem we might have – as they had been doing for many years. And if our cats happened to be asleep and miss the odd rat, then we had a couple of Cayman boas in our yard who would happily grab a nice meal should any rat be foolish enough to cross their paths. I also suggested that it would do our environment a lot less harm if the DEH would resort to using rat traps rather than poison, which would have serious long-term impacts on the wildlife with whom we share our islands.

To give him credit, he made a note of these comments on his clipboard sheet and said he would pass them on to his supervisor, as I had requested. He also told me that quite a few people had asked him not to put poison in the trees on their land.

In the following weeks several friends told me they had also requested “no poison”, and a colleague who works for DEH confirmed that the department had received many requests NOT to use the poison. Other friends related stories of pets that had eaten the rat poison by mistake and had died in horrible agony.

Why are we still using poison?

So why, then, are they still doing it? I asked. Because the request was a political one, was the reply. Naturally I enquired as to which politicians would be foolish enough to make such a request, and in reply I got the usual civil service raised eyebrow, which suggests that I know perfectly well which ones are responsible!

And then I got to thinking about how far we have NOT advanced when we are still doing things that we know will cause long-term damage to the ecology of these islands. There was a time about 10 years ago when our barn-owl populations were declining dramatically. The reason, the biologists told us, was because the barn owls were eating the rats that were dying from poison distributed by DEH. As the barn owls are the rats’ natural predators, it seemed to me then, as it still seems to me now, that we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces. If we kill the predators by poisoning their prey, then the prey will proliferate, especially when rats reproduce at least 10 times as fast as barn owls. Duh!

It’s not that many years ago that some of my friends used to chase behind the mosquito truck on its spraying rounds. They ran behind the truck so they could get covered in DDT which, of course, acted as a mosquito repellent. DDT has now been banned in most countries – though it is still used in some developing nations – because of its harmful effects.

A quick click on Wikipedia gives those who haven’t heard of DDT includes an informative review of this potent insecticide. Incidentally, Google DDT and you get 26 million hits!

Impact on human health

The impact of DDT on human health is summarised in an article by W.J. Rogan and A. Chen in the British medical journal The Lancet, which concludes: “Although DDT is generally not toxic to human beings (by exposure in small quantities) and was banned mainly for ecological reasons, subsequent research has shown that exposure to DDT at amounts that would be needed in malaria control might cause preterm birth and early weaning, abrogating the benefit of reducing infant mortality from malaria. … DDT might be useful in controlling malaria, but the evidence of its adverse effects on human health needs appropriate research on whether it achieves a favourable balance of risk versus benefit.”

In other words, once it gets into the food chain… look out!

I don’t know what kind of rat poison DEH is using, but I do know that it will get into the food chain, and, ultimately, it will affect us. Which makes me think that the Department of Environmental Health is a bit of an oxymoron. When it comes to poisoning rats, and thereby their associated ecosystems, surely it should be called the Department of Environmental Death.

Email the Green Hornet directly at: All messages will be treated confidentially, and GH will try to respond fairly quickly.

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature, Viewpoint

Comments (43)

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  1. Anonymous says:


  2. Anonymous says:

    Some of the most prolific dispensers of rat and other poisons are the condo complexes. Oh no. A land crab has dared to step onto our lawn. Kill it! Kill it at once!

    • Anonymous says:

      II’d be curious if anyone has any insight into getting land crabs from digging holes in your grass without killing them? I have rolled my ankle while mowing my lawn after stepping on one. I don’t want to kill them but I’d like to relocate them to the vacant lot next door.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well perhaps you could try to educate them on the concept of respecting property lines and boundaries. SMH as the young people say.

      • Anonymous says:

        Eat them

      • Anonymous says:

        You can’t stop them really but you can flush them out of the holes with water, may damage a bit of your lawn for a shirt time though 🙁 (Another reason why old Cayman was full of sand yards!) So you can flood their homes daily and they will come outside and you can then fill the holes. Not the best fix I know. And yes as someone here also said, you can eat them; or capture them in a cooler and release them in a swampy area far from home. Again no real way to “get rid of them”. We live in their habitat so we must share the space with them. We must respect them as we must respect the snake, rat and the owl etc. And this is coming from someone who is deathly afraid of crabs LOL!

        • Anonymous says:

          Great idea! I’ll try that. As you rightly state, this is their habitat. Thank you for the idea.

  3. Mumbichi says:

    The rat poison DEH uses is (or was, last I checked) an anticoagulant in a blue wax block with coconut essence. The blocks have a hole in them, as they are designed to be nailed to a tree or other surface above the ground. It is intended that the target creatures (rats) have to chew the blocks to get them free.

    If left loose, the blocks should be placed inside an exclusion device — a box or PVC in which a cat or dog cannot enter, sized only for rodents. I do not have any information to indicate whether DEH does this.

    Anticoagulants cause a rodent to crash and bleed internally, and often a dying rat will head for water. The antidote — if given to a pet in time — is an injection of vitamin K.

    Cats generally don’t eat this, however dogs will.

    I believe that, properly used, these blocks are effective against rats and mice. A pregnant female rat will gather up lots of blocks in advance of her anticipated pups, sometimes giving a homeowner the idea that they have far more rats than they do.

    Like The Green Hornet, I depend upon our cats to smite the occasional rat that is foolish enough to try to set up camp on our grounds.

    • Anonymous says:

      Cats are cool. Dogs are great. Any life is worth championing.

      • Mumbichi says:

        True Dat. In the U.S. squirrels dash around the trees and mostly are thought to be cute. The poor rat doan have a fluffy tail, but other than that and his small ears, the rat and squirrel are much the same.

        These creatures are the true survivors, and should be admired for their creative and adaptive intelligence, but they are, of course, shunned.

        Too bad. I don’t want rodents around me either.

  4. It’s never too late to act while there’s something left says:

    DoE seem like the only department or statutory body that actually have a proactive concern and action plan in regards to anything environmental. The other two, OfReg not mentioned, have a mandate but are stuck rotating on their swivel chairs fiddling about what to do, whilst fly tipping and dumping of hazardous waste and leaks of hydrocarbons continue with impunity. Their monitoring efforts are fruitless in the face of increasing environmental threats from overdevelopment.

    Does it strike anyone as convenient why Cayman still doesn’t have its own environmental protection act, one that ranks as one of the strictest in the world? Since we have such a small land mass and precious little natural environment left one would think all this does not matter, however making a dollar at the expense of the environment very much does.

    To effect a significant change for the better need politicians and leaders who are vested in and champion the fight to preserve what we have left for future generations. Environmental preservation and sustainable development are both a mindset, not a fad, not a bandwagon and not anti-development. It’s about respecting, preserving and ultimately striving to live more harmoniously with other life on this planet, past, present and future.

    • Anonymous says:

      There was a Dr. Small from (Barbados?) about 20 years or so ago, who was (as I recall) commissioned by the government to create legislation that was much like that of the UK and US regarding hazardous materials and environmental regulations.

      I don’t know what happened with that. I would guess nothing, since we don’t have any such legislation.

  5. anon says:

    It’s the feral chickens I’m worried about, they are everywhere and eat just about anything. They can’t open a coconut yet, but they can sure open plastic garbage bags for a street party.

    • Anonymous says:

      Imagine the chicken poop you track into your house… It can be full of disease…

    • Anonymous says:

      So why also, are DOA importing more chickens rather than rounding up the loose chickens and health checking them and using them for eggs and meat?
      Ridiculous waste of resources, as usual.

  6. Chief Crab. says:

    Just let the young Caymanian work already. Typical crab in the bucket mentality.

    • Anonymous says:

      You really don’t get it?

    • Anonymous says:

      Said the guy that didn’t bother to read the entire article… You genuinely missed the entire point dingdong.

    • Anonymous says:

      We don’t give a rat’s a$$ about the posion or the crab in the bucket man. Just pay the young Caymanian for showing up.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It is good to know we have a world class civil service as well as an Ombudsman and Governor to ensure we have and maintain Good Governance around here…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Love the Headline! Smack on! 👍👍👍

  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s illegal to leave your cat, or any other household pets outside to roam the neighborhood. They must be under your control at all times.

    • Anonymous says:

      Did you not read the part about the Cayman Barn Owls that have disappeared because you are poisoning their food supply???
      Boy, some of you people sure are thick.
      Give you something to read and you can’t even do that.

      Something called reading comprehension…
      No wonder you keep woting in the same pirates to govern, rape and pillage your country. It is a free for all! Can’t wait to see if you wote in the same woman beaters and trough eaters. Get me some more popcorn!

    • Anonymous says:

      Tell that to all the locals on island with dogs.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dear Anonymous 9:21 am:
      Illegal? Under control? Where on earth did you hear that?
      P.S. The cats haven’t heard it either.

      • Anonymous says:

        Havent read the animals law lately then? 9.21 is correct. It is in the laws not to let your animals roam. Not that it matters, because it’s only enforced when they want to or when the government wants to use 1080 to poison the feral dog and cat population.

    • Anonymous says:

      It should be illegal to be so ignorant. But we are in Cayman.

    • Anonymous says:

      When it comes to cats let them be free, with your mindset it should be illegal for you to be allowed on this island.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I had no idea this was happening, thanks for drawing attention to it!
    DDT is, as you mention, banned in most countries and presumably also here .. have you contacted DEH to ask what they are using? And why they don’t use traps?

    Along the same lines, do we know what MRCU is spraying with, and should we be fleeing indoors when we hear the plane?

    • Anonymous says:

      MRCU remains among the most transparent departments in the CIG. They publish the Material Safety Sheets on their website for all treatments used, so you can holster the conspiracy theories. You’re right though, best not to breath heavily some of this stuff. Before the MRCU, the density of mosquitos was so thick in the air, that their bodies would physically impede and seal the noses and mouths of cattle, suffocating them. They are open to all control measures if anyone has better ideas.

    • Anonymous says:

      I know recently it was suspicious and I still haven’t read a clear article on it since. All I know is the amount of dead bees after it’s sprayed is devastating.

    • Anonymous says:

      They aren’t spraying DDT. All this information and the exact products they use are posted on their website:
      “Pest control materials that are relatively non-toxic to people with few environmental side effects are sometimes called “biorational” pesticides. These fit well into an integrated pest management strategy, which relies on monitoring for early detection of pests and emphasizes the use of selective products that provide control while preserving the ecological health of the farm and minimizing negative effects on beneficial insects that suppress pests. MRCU incorporates a number of these biorational products in their integrated mosquito control programme.”

      In the concentrations they use for the plane spray, there is not enough of the product that could harm humans.

      • Anonymous says:

        But yet they say to turn off the air conditioning and close your windows

        • Mumbichi says:

          Seems reasonable no matter what is being broadcast or sprayed, doesn’t it?

          Tell me you wouldn’t close the windows no matter what? I would. We all would.

      • Anonymous says:

        But close your windows and turn off your AC is what they tell us to do anyway so how can your statement be true?

    • Mumbichi says:

      I would guess that they don’t use traps because traps are labour intensive, requiring a person to set and check them and so on. Poisons are a more one-time solution.

    • Anonymous says:

      they havent used DDT for donkey years.

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