In the past six months, between January and July of this year, over 230 people called the National Trust Cayman Wildlife Rescue Hotline (917-BIRD). Some problems were resolved with advice or referrals only, but in 143 cases, Cayman Wildlife Rescue responded and provided veterinary care and rehabilitation.
The goals of CWR are to rescue, treat, rehab, release and retain Cayman Islands wildlife in their natural habitats and to protect them from injuries. Nearly all wildlife accidents are caused by human activities – especially collisions with traffic and glass. Carelessly discarded fishing line and hooks also cause major problems as does tree-trimming during nesting season The program, which began in 2001, originally dealt with a few dozen animals per year, but the caseload has been growing steadily. Animals that have been helped include Pelicans, peregrine falcons, parrots, owls, terns, whistling ducks, frigate birds, small songbirds, seabirds and wetland species of all types, sea turtles, hickatees, bats and iguanas.
“There are several reasons for the recent increase in calls,” said Alison Corbett, volunteer manager for the program. “The Wildlife Hotline (donated by LIME) is becoming better known. Additionally, the pace of development has pushed the interface between animals and humans closer. As civilisation advances, the country needs a programme like this one. We work closely with international wildlife rescue organisations, including the International Bird Rescue Research Centre (www.ibrrc.org), Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and others.”
Because of the increasing burden on volunteers who were doing capture, transport and long-term care, it became necessary for the programme to find more help. St. Matthews University stepped forward to offer assistance. The presence of a veterinary college on Grand Cayman is a valuable resource and utilising their expertise was a new approach that has proved very successful in the first year. Dr. Lara Cusack, with the help of volunteers, is now handling capture, transport, rehab and releases, including follow-up monitoring after release. Cayman Turtle Farm provided recovery areas and aviaries for flight training. This dedicated internship, focused only on wildlife rescue, and with the provision of a warm, quiet stress-free environment for recovery, has resulted in a steady increase in successful releases, even as the number of animals coming into care has climbed to the highest level since the programme began 10 years ago.
The programme operates on all three islands and animals are always released into their original territories. Often, long drives and challenging captures are required. CWR goes that extra mile – literally and frequently. Every call receives a response and every animal is given immediate attention. CWR is appealing to the public for donations to help cover the rising cost of veterinary care, fuel incurred during transports as well as food and medicines. They receive no government funding and have no paid employees. All donations are applied directly to the care of the animals. A major sponsor and Wildlife Angels who could make significant yearly donations are critical to the continued existence of this important work.
CWR also offers advice for coping with wildlife nuisances. With the loss of natural habitat, owls, woodpeckers and bats seek shelter in buildings. Rescue members help find solutions to assist homeowners in removing animals using humane and environmentally sound methods. The program does not address invasive species or feral pets like green iguanas or chickens. These problems are simply too large for a volunteer group, and the focus must remain on native Caymanian wildlife.
The Cayman Wildlife Hotline (917-BIRD) is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round, including holidays. Dealing with injured wildlife is difficult and stressful and can be dangerous. Problems are multifaceted and include capture methods, prioritisation when there are multiple cases at once, rehabilitation protocols, species-specific treatments, varied and sometimes difficult-to-obtain food requirements and monitored releases. This requires deep commitment and long hours. Animals coming into the programme are usually in serious trouble and while there are many happy outcomes, the fact remains that losses are an unavoidable part of the job. Reducing these losses to the absolute minimum is a major goal of the program and we are proud of our rising successful release percentages.
If you find an injured bird or other wild animal: Unless the animal is in immediate danger (e.g. on a road, drowning, or vulnerable to attack by dogs and cats) do not pick it up. Call the Wildlife Rescue Hotline 917-BIRD (917-2473). Do not try to care for the animal yourself. Sick and injured animals may need medications and special diets. Some illnesses or injuries are not apparent to the untrained eye. Do not feed the animal or give it any liquids. Do not risk injuring yourself or the animal by attempting capture – especially with species like herons, egrets, boobies, parrots and birds of prey that can do real damage with their sharp beaks or talons!
The National Trust Cayman Wildlife Rescue Program is financed 100 per cent by donations. If you can help, please send a check in care of the National Trust, PO Box 31116 SMB; KY1 – 1205 or contact: [email protected] To view case histories and a wonderful video of a successful Pelican release, visit www.caymanwildliferescue.org. For more information visit us on-line at www.nationaltrust.org.ky, www.caymanwildlife.org, http://twitter.com/CWildlifeRescue and Facebook groups National Trust for the Cayman Islands Cayman Wildlife Rescue and Cayman Wildlife Connection.