Feral cats create crisis for local birds and reptiles

| 21/09/2021 | 97 Comments
Cayman News Service
Brown booby birds on Cayman Brac, one killed by feral cats (photo courtesy DoE)

(CNS): Experts at the Department of Environment who focus on Cayman’s unique and rare birds and reptiles are increasingly concerned about the danger posed to many species across all three islands from feral cats. The threat to the endemic rock iguana on Little Cayman has been well documented but these animals are also a critical threat to the survival of brown booby birds on Cayman Brac and blue iguanas on Grand Cayman.

DoE Terrestrial Resources Unit Director Fred Burton told CNS that the unit’s hands are tied on conducting the humane cull needed, which is unacceptable, given the crisis surrounding the future survival of some of Cayman’s unique birds and reptiles.

The DoE and the Department of Agriculture are bound by an undertaking given to a judge more than three years ago relating to a request for judicial review by two local animal charities to challenge the cull of feral cats. The courts had directed the government authorities to talk to the Humane Society and Feline Friends in an effort to find common ground rather than proceed to JR. But there was no common ground and since then the legal issues have been resolved but a catalogue of other issues delayed the case.

When the charities last met with the DoE and DoA, they reached a verbal agreement, but when this took written form a circle of counter proposals with long delays began, Burton said. The agreement remains notionally acceptable but un-signed.

“We feel this ongoing delay is profoundly unacceptable and are very actively seeking solutions though multiple approaches at the same time,” Burton told CNS. “In terms of losses to critically endangered, protected wildlife in the Sister Isles, every day lost to delay is measurable in predation events where cats kill rock iguana young, birds, curly-tail lizards, and even boobies. Residents in Little Cayman are increasingly upset and distressed about the lack of action, and practically they are unanimous in support of the humane trap and euthanize control, paired with microchipping and safeguarding domestic companion cats.”

Burton warned that the nesting brown boobies on Cayman Brac will “soon be history, if we cannot act”.

A recent picture by the DoE team on the Brac summed up the threat to these seabirds, which are already in decline globally. Brown boobies in Cayman Brac are ground nesting birds, while in Little Cayman the frigate birds and red footed boobies nest in low-lying mangroves. This leaves all the seabird chicks horribly exposed to being killed by the cats.

“In Cayman Brac, occasionally a whole family can be exterminated as the parents are attacked while defending or returning to the chick,” the DoE said in a recent social media post, which had a picture of a brown booby parent and chick standing next to the body of the other parent, which was attacked by a feral cat. “This chick is also doomed. One parent cannot raise it alone,” the team said, adding that there was no doubt a cat was the culprit as its tracks were left in the sand nearby.

All members of the DoE team are in agreement that no one likes to kill things, but they have pointed out that consideration must be given as to which species are more important, because many creatures are being killed by the feral cats, which are only here because people brought them in as pets and then abandoned them.

“The problem is extreme on all three islands,” Burton said. “We don’t have population estimates for the feral cats because this is extremely difficult to do, but we are moving in that direction.”

He explained that, given the magnitude of the problem, feeding stations don’t work because cats just instinctively hunt regardless of how much food is put out for them. The feral cats have reached enormous numbers now on the Sister Islands especially, where they are killing so many young iguanas that the endemic and indigenous species are in serious peril and the DoE has to cage the young hatchlings to save them from the cats.

But the cats threaten so much more native animals, and while they don’t seem to be eating mice and rats, they are causing havoc among other species. Camera traps in the Salina Reserve in East End show them hunting anole lizards, blue iguana hatchlings, ground nesting doves and small forest birds. Past post mortems on the cats showed no evidence of them eating rats, but rather bird and lizards.

“I have even seen one snatching a low flying swallow out of the air in my own back yard,” Burton said. “If that is what we actually see, what goes on without our knowing must be immense.”

But the cats, too, are suffering, he said, as they have tapeworms, roundworms, viral infections, blindness, physical injuries and more. “Their guts were full of garbage, literally, cardboard, plastic, rubber.”

But still the animal charities don’t want to countenance even humane euthanasia and are advocating for trap-neuter-release. But Burton stressed it does not and cannot work to reduce population and predation pressure on a whole island with such a large feral cat population as there is now on Little Cayman.

Domestic cats are also a recognised threat to global biodiversity, and according to the American Bird Conservancy, they are responsible for the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles in the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists domestic cats as one of the world’s worst non-native invasive species. Feral cats are even worse indiscriminate killers of wildlife and threaten hundreds of species all over the world.


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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (97)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is so much more complicated than just killing some animals. It’s a temporary solution to a man-made problem. So you cull the cats you don’t like now, what happens when irresponsible pet owners have continued on and the cat population has regenerated? I am a cat lover, but I can get my head around the theoretical need to reduce the population drastically. What bothers me is that what will actually happen is that a bunch of animals who didn’t ask to be there and are just trying to survive will be summarily executed (with possibly the odd pet sacrificed as well, if the cullers aren’t very careful) and then in less than a dozen years the problem will arise again, especially without a TNR programme. Until Cayman has a huge shift in attitude and respect towards animals and animal welfare in general (which is part of what the beleaguered animal charities are trying to do) this is likely to be a never ending cycle as people continue to treat animals as disposable and spaying and neutering as not worth the bother. All it takes is one batch of kittens tossed out and the cycle begins again.

    • Anonymous says:

      Amen. The worst thing for the endemic creatures is people. Tearing up their habitat, paving the place, running over them, using all kinds of poisons, shooting them, poaching them, etc. The kitties cause nowhere near the havoc people do.

    • Anonymous says:

      So we just ignore the daily death toll whilst the arguments over a long term solution continue? How about we cull now in parallel with exploring longer term solutions? Because the cats may not have asked to be there, but the boobies and iguanas have no choice either – and are a damn sight rarer and less replaceable than feral cats.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is categorically a catastrophe!

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

    https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/trap-neuter-release/

  4. Mark my words says:

    If you step into my yard thinking you’ll murder my pets for a few dollars i’ll make sure the tables are turned around fast.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am so sick of seeing the animal charities take the blame for this. This is such a desperate situation, but if we are honest, it is down to an appalling abdication of responsibility by primarily the Department of Agriculture, and, to a lesser extent, the Department of Environment over many years. These two departments should be working together to solve/prevent these issues, with the animal charities providing their support.

    We have very good animals laws here, however they can not be enforced, because no-one will push to have them enacted. This should be done by the relevant politician who holds the post. I encourage you to read the Animals Law. For instance, no person may allow a domestic pet animal to reproduce without being licensed to do so(Section 29, copied below). Enforcement of this law alone would mean the reduction in unwanted puppies and kittens immediately, because anyone allowing a pet to reproduce could be held accountable under this Law, and could pay $10,000.00 for allowing their pet to reproduce. However, this Law has never been enacted, so if you call DoA to apply for a breeder’s license, you will be told that they can not issue one. How ridiculous is that!!?

    29. (1) A person shall not- (a)keep pet animals belonging to another person for which a charge is made;(b) breed pet animals;(c)sell a pet animal or act as broker in relation to the sale or transfer of animals; (d)train or keep animals for guard duties other than the guarding of his own premises; or(e)keep animals for public display,unless he holds an operating licence.
    7) A person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of ten thousand dollars.

    And don’t get me started on how DoA deal with welfare cases-their lack of compassion, and refusal to enforce even the most basic animal rights is horrific.

    For years the animal organisations have been trying to improve the welfare of companion animals in the country, yet get zero support from the Government agencies that are supposed to be responsible for this. Anyone who has ever tried to report animal cruelty can confirm this. The charities do not have the right to tell people how to care for their animals, to enforce spay and neuter, or even to confiscate pets, this is only permitted by DoA or the Police, yet all animal welfare assistance is being provided by charities. This is what needs to change. The government agencies should be enforcing the Laws, with the charities acting as support for those who genuinely need it. Instead we have a situation where the charities are trying to perform population control, while too many backyard breeders who are producing horrendous poor pups to sell at extortionate prices expound their supposed skills on social media…

    The feral cat issue could have and should have been resolved years ago, but no Government department wanted to make it happen. It really is that simple. And it is disgusting.

    And if they are finally ready to do something about the feral cats, they also need to do something about the dogs, chickens etc.

    So yes, now there needs to be a cull, but it has to be done humanely. DoA have approved the importation of new poisons. How do any of us know they won’t use these instead?
    Who remembers the strychnine poisonings pre-Christmas 1999???

    • Anonymous says:

      Bullshit. The humane society opposed a cull when the issue was in its infancy. 25 years ago!

      • Anonymous says:

        There was no need for a cull 25 years ago. Today there is because nothing was done 25 years ago….

  6. Anonymous says:

    But why did the court grant an injunction and why did the doe and doa give undertakings? A court doesn’t just grant an injunction without reason. I feel like there is something missing from the story here.

    • Anonymous says:

      Because the government was not following any of its own rules. There are detailed laws on how to proceed. They seem to be working themselves up for another go, based on the sudden surge in press and media releases.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Far too may animals in the beach as pets, let alone wild ones. Time for a cull.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It’s not about the problem, its about the proposed solution. Everyone understands that there is an imbalance, but surely a civilised society can find a civilised solution instead of barbaric cruelty ….

    • Anonymous says:

      Its an invasive species. Unfortunately there is only one solution that works. Eradication. This isn’t fluffy the lap cat. These are ferral cats that would sooner rip your eyes out than let you pet them.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thought PACT cared about the environment? Time to stop pussyfooting around this issue.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Don’t they still poison them on the Brac anyway?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Remember when you all cried for ACCOUNTABILITY during elections? If you want accountability it extends to ALL government departments including the doe and doa who were acting illegally which is why an injunction was necessary. You all can’t be like cult followers and allow breaches by government of the law whilst also crying for accountability.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “Cull” sounds so much nicer than kill or exterminate.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The injunction was implemented to prevent a blind and violent cull where the animals would be brutally slaughtered without regard to whether they are feral or merely roaming pets.

    The injunction requires the DoA to employ trappers to remove the cats from the wild and then carefully check that they are 100% not a pet (i.e private property by definition of the law) and then euthanised by painless lethal injection if indeed feral.

    However, the government department of agriculture have failed to implement any protocol to allow this to happen.

    Meanwhile, the aforementioned charities, humane society and feline friends, work tirelessly to trap and spay/neuter dozens of cats each week to control the cat population on Grand Cayman.

    These feral animals are simply trying to survive in an ecosystem that is yet to balance with some proficient predators. By reducing their population growth through neutering programs we can help rebalance the situation humanely.

    I find it somewhat ironic that people are calling for a cull of feral cats for their unwittingly destructive behaviour whilst wealthy humans are wantonly pillaging this country for all it is worth and destroying the coastline, beaches,and mangroves in the process.

    This is simply a distraction from what Caymanians should truly be angry about.

    • Anonymous says:

      Way to complicated.
      Designate Cat Cull Week.
      If you own a cat keep it inside for the week.
      Anything in wild is culled.

      • Batman says:

        Why not keep them inside where they won’t kill birds and other small wildlife? Cats will kill any small creature that is unable to defend itself!

    • Cayman Is. says:

      I 100% agree with you. If you keep destroying the forestry here, of course bird and lizards will go extinct. Don’t blame it on the cats. It is a lack of conservation and destroying wild bush and trees. I’m not for killing.

    • JTB says:

      Neutered cats can live a long time, still hunting and eating. It’s not a solution of any kind. It’s a fig leaf.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why should potentially non voters have the final say?

  15. Concerned Caymanian says:

    I totally agree that DOE need to definitely do something about the wild chickens just like how they did with the Green Iguanas.

    • Cayman Is. says:

      For all you know, these chickens you call pest because you fail to properly secure your garbage, are the same pest that will provide food on your table if anything should happen to our supermarkets !!! Don’t be so short sighted!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps on Brac and Little Cayman a partial cull may be warranted. But I don’t think a cull is warranted in Grand Cayman, otherwise we will be over run with rats, chickens and other small vermin.

    • Anon says:

      The problem with your statement is that feral cats do not like to kill rats, as rats are tough prey. In a recent study in Chicago, feral cats were videotaped to see how they interacted with rats. The cats overwhelmingly avoided having anything to do with rats – they were simply too much trouble.
      Cats also don’t bother with chickens. They’re too large.
      As for “small vermin”, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. If you mean introduced species like the House Mouse, then I agree that feral cats can and do prey on mice, just not on rats and chickens.

      • Anonymous says:

        Of course cats kill rats. What? they’re only good enogh to kill birds?

        You realise birds fly right? Cats have a better success at killing rats than birds.

        Whoever said cats don’t kill rats has to be the dumbest person on this Island. Congratulations on you’re award.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have never seem a cat catch a chicken or a rat but plenty of lizards!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Time for a cat cull!!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Based on what your article said about the effect of the Judge’s ruling, it’s up to the Humane Society leadership to see to it that this gets sorted, fast! it sounds like, yet again, sentiments are overpowering science – sound familiar?

    It’s high time for the decision-makers in the Humane Society to step up and do the right thing to enable the humane culling of feral cats to go ahead.

    Otherwise, sad to say, but probably the only way we the caring public can apply effective pressure to break this ridiculous bureaucratic logjam is to withdraw our individual and corporate financial support for the Humane Society, until such time as they ensure all the legal hurdles are unblocked for the humane culling of the feral cats in all three islands.

    In the meantime until the Humane Society leaders do what they should, the perverse reality is that those who continue to support the Humane Society are complicit in unnecessarily perpetuating an otherwise curable lethal hazard that threatens the extirpation or, even worse, extinction of several of our native species in all three islands. It’s that serious. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

  19. This Mama Loves Cayman says:

    We have Selina, daughter-in-law of Sammy Jackson, the lawyer who ran against Alden in the last election to blame for the legal impasse. It is she who organised the legal action against the DoE to stop the humane culling of the cats. Ask her how to unpick this mess.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Australia is on their way to a 2,000,000 cat cull
    Holland has done 1,000s
    Bring it on

  21. Anonymous says:

    If Trap Neuter Release worked, the Humane Society would have solved the problem between 2018 and now. They would have neutered all the cats, the feral ones would already have died as they don’t live long, and there would be no problems whatsoever. The fact that they haven’t solved the problem is evidence that they can’t solve the problem this way. The Humane Society is rich$$$ from inheritances.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Why did DoA’s chicken catchers get disbanded? Time to bring that department back to full strength. Let’s clean up and beautify our $#!@ before tourists come back. Employ some tourist folk – giving a hoot is what butters your bread!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Cull the cats not the chickens. I eat them and their eggs.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Can we introduce a stray cat culling and chicken culling program – what benefit do they add to the ecosystem? A good business for some of those struggling in the tourism trade to get involved in. $5 a catch similar to the Iguana cull.

    • Anonymous says:

      Definitely need to do something about the chickens. Ironically, there’s a curious interaction between the the two because while a cat probably wouldn’t take on a full-size bird they love the chicks.

  25. Anonymous says:

    people need to stop having pets. end of story.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Does The DOE have any actual data backing up any of these claims? A cat killing a swallow in the backyard is not exactly proof that swallows are in trouble.

    CNS: Read more here. I’ve put this document in the CNS Library.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok, read it. No Cayman data except the number of iguanas. The DOE faqs do indicate it has done nothing about this in the field thus far. The kill plan as described includes pets as probable collateral damage.

  27. Anonymous says:

    If you want to eliminate feral cats on LC, you will have to kill or remove all of the cats there, including pets. Burton should be honest about this.

    CNS: Domestic cats should be spayed or neutered so they do not add to the problem of feral cats and kept indoors so they do not kill the wildlife. You should be honest about this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Do you really think people will suddenly be responsible? Be honest.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I have always known that Cayman’s Humane Society is mostly made up of foreign do-gooders who want to earn points for their PR tests, but in never knew they hated birds.

    • Pat says:

      Foreign-do-gooders who prop up the economy, fund raise for any number of local causes and are more passionate about the local environment than the local-do-nothingers. 10:43, your comments are divisive and lack any substance.

  29. Anonymous says:

    See what happens when man sticks his nose in things that dont concern him. A few months ago the d.o.a. was on a dog roundup. Now see what happens. Cat population increase and run wild. Nature will exercise its checks and balances.

    CNS: 1) Feral dogs might kill the occasional cat but do not make even the smallest dent in the feral cat population. 2) This has been a problem for decades. 3) This is a man-made problem. Humans “sticking their noses into things” happened when they brought cats and dogs to the island. 4) You seem to think that dogs killing cats for fun or food is more acceptable than culling.

    • Anonymous says:

      CNS, dogs also kill blue and rock iguanas. Success will require eliminating all the pets on LC permanently since people are irresponsible. Bty, those Boobies nest all over the Caribbean.

  30. Cayman Is says:

    I just don’t like killing or culling any animal for that matter. We have to use science and rise above a barbaric way of dealing with what we call pest.

    • JTB says:

      You and your sentimental myopia are part of the problem

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t believe you can separate a person from their own sentimental myopia, so I would argue the correct verb is “is.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Like what? Beam them to Outer Mongolia?

    • Anonymous says:

      When I worked in the Middle East they had a serious problem with feral dogs predating a very sensitive desert environment. Simple and very effective solution – they sent in the army’s snipers. When you saw the pathetic physical state of the dead dogs the bullet had actually been the most humane solution.

  31. Anonymous says:

    This has been an ongoing problem for 30 plus years. Hopefully it is taken seriously at last.

  32. Cat Lover says:

    They need to be removed ASAP by whatever means necessary as they are causing untold damage.
    I have a cat from the Humane Society which they brought over from LC about a year ago as a kitten. He definitely didn’t belong there and he is now an indoor house cat and doesn’t kill anything. I don’t let him out as he would hunt… that’s what they do. Be responsible for the environment and get rid of all the feral cats ASAP from LC and CB as well.

    • Anonymous says:

      How terribly cruel to keep a cat imprisoned indoors. Poor cat.

      • Anonymous says:

        you are part of the problem with your free roaming cats!

      • Anonymous says:

        And how incredibly cruel and insensitive of you to allow them outside to hunt and kill (often for fun – they don’t even eat their kills most times) our endemic birds and reptiles – what about the feelings of all the other people in Cayman who care about our native species and feel sick to their stomach when they see your outdoor cat pounce on and kill yet another bird or Lizard – we think it is incredibly selfish, ignorant and thoughtless – please just keep them inside – they are also so much less likely to get run over, cause a car accident by making someone dodge them or making people sick (especially children and pregnant woman through the diseases they frequently carry. Do you hear us – WE DON’T WANT YOUR OUTDOOR CAT KILLING OUR NATIVE CREATURES- we are sick of it and want you to STOP LETTING THEM OUT! ENOUGH!

  33. Anonymous says:

    This story makes my blood boil! It’s unconscionable that a few charities are causing the destruction of our native species by their selfish acts. If I lived on the sister islands, court order or not, I’d be taking matters into my own hands. CULL THE CATS!!!

  34. Anonymous says:

    I am withdrawing all support from the humane society and any other charity that has been opposing the cull. The consequences were well known and anticipated. They have literally risked the extinction of species and the spectacular fauna of these Islands. Damn their arrogance.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Executive Orders needed.

  36. Anonymous says:

    The Humane Society will receive no further donations or support from myself and many others until they end this bullshit.
    #boycottcihs

    • Anonymous says:

      Stupid people. Now, what will happen to all of the dogs and cats that they are saving if you allow yourself to be triggered by the foreign killers. Why don’t you take the booby birds and the iguanas and keep them in your house? I have plenty cats and birds around my area. The cats are scared of the chickens and they don’t trouble the birds. I have plenty ground doves and parrots.

      • Yea nfg says:

        The real threat to the birds is careless development, like how they ripped the tree up in town that hundreds of birds used for nesting then, do a 180 and cast the blame elsewhere on other animals…

        Funny how there was no iguanas running a muck years ago but since the destruction of their natural habitat these animals have no other choice but to venture out to find alternative shelter and food.

        Too bad we can’t have a culling for the ones who really contribute to the dentriment of our ecosystem for satisfaction of their wallets.

        • Anonymous says:

          Green iguanas are not native to the Cayman Islands. They are invasive species. No question of destruction of their habitat arises.

          Habitat destruction is a serious problem but should not be conflated with control of invasive species, which includes cats.

          • Don't play games with me says:

            Yea because other indigenous animals who share that habitat like our birds don’t need trees or shade to survive according to you they all should just pitch on a telephone wire and eat the mozzies even if they’re native or not.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or you could lay blame where it belongs [with] the doa and doe who could have started a tnr program there 10 years ago. Instead of acting humanely and in good time they sat on their XXXX behinds and now want to blame people who have a conscience for their ineptness- like always with the CIG. Another day in upside down world.

      • Anonymous says:

        TNR does not work to save wild animals and you know it. Stop with the wilful blindness.

      • Anonymous says:

        amen to that.

      • Anonymous says:

        who cares at the point who is to blame for the problem – just fix the problem! blaming anyone at the point is unnecessary. we are here. and something must be done to save the native wildlife – not cats

        • Anonymous says:

          I blame the Humane Society and have every right to do so as I first raised the problem with them more than 25 years ago. They expressly confirmed that the cats had every right to the environment and even suggested that as mammals they outranked the cold blooded slithering things (Little Cayman Rock Iguanas) I was concerned about.

          • Anonymous says:

            Ok anonymous, I 100% believe your anonymous statement which sounds like someone with a few screws loose.

            • Anonymous says:

              Care to ecplain to the rest of us why their viewpoint is not rational and valid?

              • rock iguana says:

                Endemic species evolved here.. they have called cayman home much longer than any of us or our pets. Endemic = they are found no where else in the world. Cats don’t belong in the environment because they never evolved here, we brought them. We do lionfish and green iguana culls and have been doing feral dog controls for years, for good reason. What makes cats so exceptional?

      • Anonymous says:

        “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

        https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/trap-neuter-release/

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