Feral cat invasion is wiping out native species on Caribbean island, officials say

Little Cayman island in the Caribbean is so overrun with cats that the government fears they will soon drive multiple native species to the brink of extinction.

Little Cayman island in the Caribbean is so overrun with cats that the government fears they will soon drive multiple native species to the brink of extinction.

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A vacation paradise in the Caribbean is so overrun with feral cats that government officials fear several native species may soon become 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 Sept. 9 Facebook post.

“The island is overrun with a mass of invasive feral cats. These animals are killing our country’s native and protected wildlife, including the red-footed booby, the brown booby and the Sister Islands Rock Iguanas. DOE scientists estimate that some of these species will be extinct on Little Cayman within just a few years.”

A “viable, humane” control program is desperately needed, but the government doesn’t appear to have found one yet.

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

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 the threatened species are being kept in cages for protection, officials said.

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

“It is profoundly disturbing that native, wild animals must be caged to protect them from invasive predators,” the trust wrote.

“There is no rational justification to create the need for such measures to try and prevent a unique species from going extinct. This is fundamentally wrong, plain and simple.”

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

That injunction dates to 2018, when island officials were “attempting to eradicate the island’s wild cat population,” according to the Cayman Compass. “The government departments and the charities have been in negotiations to try to come to an arrangement, but no agreement has yet been reached,” the news outlet reported.

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

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

“Ridiculous! How are cats being protected over indigenous iguanas?” Denise Miller wrote.

“Lock and load,” John Daly said.

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

“With the current over-abundance crisis of cats in the Sister Islands, it is not feasible to capture (more than) 90% of the population before native species have been lost,” the department wrote.

“Giving food to feral cats does not stop them hunting. Feeding feral cats on any island contributes to the problem.”

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

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