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.
After more than three years of negotiations, the animal charities agreed to close the case by paying their legal costs, which amounted to C$25,000.
Cabinet approved the regulations to ensure invasive species management in the Sister Islands can resume in earnest.
The director general of the Department of Sustainable Development and Climate Resilience, Jennifer Ahearn, said the control measures are essential to protect the threatened native and endemic fauna of the Sister Islands from the threat of predation, competition and ‘hybridization.
“At the heart of this issue is the urgent need to protect vulnerable species – such as the red-footed booby and the endemic Sisters Island iguana – from extinction from invasive predators. A protracted battle in the courts n ‘would have only prolonged the suffering of our native species and feral cats while incurring significant legal costs for all parties,’ Ms Ahearn said. ‘We respect the important work that our local animal welfare charities do to prevent animal suffering and reduce the number of homeless animals in our community.This settlement allows the government to close this matter so that our environmental experts can advance our conservation goals in the Sister Islands.
Resumption of feral cat control operations
After the settlement, a team from the Department of Environment (DoE) and Department of Agriculture (DoA) traveled to Little Cayman to register and microchip domestic and companion cats, before resuming screening operations wild cats.
Six nights of trapping resulted in the capture of 40 cats; including four registered domestic cats that have been returned to their owners.
The trapped cats were cared for by the senior DoA vet each morning, with assistance from the DoE. All trapped cats were carefully scanned in the trap to verify their identity. Registered pet cats that have been trapped, microchipped and identity verified have been returned to the care of their owners.
A representative of the Cayman Islands Humane Society observed all aspects of the control operations, which were carried out humanely.
Invasive Species Management Efforts Receive International Funding
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 stronger biosecurity protocols and implement management of invasive species 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 flora and fauna of the Sister Islands. .
“While feral cats and green iguanas are perhaps the most obvious threats to our native and endemic wildlife, other species such as rats can also have significant negative impacts. Darwin grant funding will allow us to improve our inter-island biosecurity efforts and safeguard the unique biodiversity of our sister islands.
Part of the effort will include estimating cat population density using wildlife cameras and a feasibility study to determine if eradicating feral cats from Little Cayman is technically, socially and economically feasible.
Agriculture Director 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 in supporting local biosecurity efforts,” he said. “For example, do not attempt 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 feral cat colonies from forming and reduce the burden on local shelters.