Invasion of cats killing species native to Caribbean island

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The Caribbean island of Little Cayman is so overrun with cats that the government fears they could soon drive several native species to the brink of extinction.

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A Caribbean vacation paradise is so overrun with feral cats that government officials fear several native species may soon be extinct.

The island is Little Cayman, about 145 miles south of Cuba, and scientists are calling the situation “urgent”.

“#LittleCayman is currently experiencing an environmental crisis,” the Cayman Islands Department of Environment reported in a September 9 Facebook post.

“The island is being overrun by a mass of invasive feral cats. These animals are killing our nation’s native and protected wildlife, including the red-footed booby, brown booby, and Sister Island rock iguanas. DOE scientists estimate that some of these species will be extirpated from Little Cayman in just a few years.

A “sustainable and humane” control program is desperately needed, but the government does not seem to have found one yet.

Little Cayman is described by island tourism officials as a “serene landscape where the bustle of birds at Booby Pond Nature Reserve may be the strongest commotion on earth”. It is also considered a “premium dive destination”, reports DiveTraining.

Government officials haven’t said exactly how many feral cats are running amok on the island, but it’s bad enough that small groups of some endangered species are being kept in cages for protection, officials said.

The cats were introduced by humans who “refuse to take responsibility”, the National Trust’s Little Cayman District Committee said in a Facebook post.

“It is deeply disturbing that native wildlife should be caged to protect them from invasive predators,” the trust wrote.

“There is no rational justification for creating the need for such measures to try to prevent the extinction of a single species. It is fundamentally wrong, plain and simple.

The trust says “drastic control measures have been prevented by a court injunction” filed by animal rights organisations.

This injunction dates back to 2018, when island officials were “attempting to eradicate the island’s feral cat population”, according to the Cayman Compass. “Ministries and charities have been negotiating to try to reach an agreement, but no agreement has yet been reached,” the outlet reported.

Some people are calling on the government to take immediate action against the threat before it’s too late.

“All feral cats should be euthanized as humanely as possible. This is the only solution,” Brian Kleiner posted on the government’s Facebook page.

“Ridiculous! How are cats protected from native iguanas?” wrote Denise Miller.

“Lock and load,” said John Daly.

Cayman Islands officials say “trapping and neutering without removal from the environment does not reduce the rate of predation.”

“With the current cat glut crisis in the Sister Islands, it is not possible to capture (more than) 90% of the population before the native species are extinct,” the department wrote.

“Feeding feral cats does not prevent them from hunting. Feeding feral cats on any island contributes to the problem.

This story was originally published September 13, 2021 1:44 p.m.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering topics including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a major in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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