Top stories of 2012: Generally a bad year for animals

Each month of 2012 seems to bring a new story of animals in trouble in the Cayman Islands, with Sister Islands rock iguanas, green parrots, stingrays, dolphins, green iguanas and poisoned dogs hitting the headlines. 

 

Rock iguana roadkill  

Four rock iguanas were killed on the roads of Cayman Brac this year.  

In October, an iguana simply as “No. 86” was killed on a road on the Bluff, after development drove him from his usual habitat to a patch at the side of the road.  

In June, a young female iguana, known as “Little Girl”, who had been featured as a character in a locally written children’s story was killed when she was struck by a passing vehicle.  

In April, a pregnant iguana was killed on South Side Road and in May, the island’s largest male iguana, known as “S”, was struck and killed.  

Encroaching development is pushing the iguanas into populated areas and onto roadsides, while newly paved roads appear to be encouraging more speeding drivers on Cayman Brac, leading to more of the animals, which are classified as critically endangered, being killed on the roads. A count of iguanas on the island taken in early 2012 showed there were fewer than 90 of the reptiles surviving. 

There was a happy ending though for one rock iguana who was victim of a hit and run. The iguana, nicknamed Nelson, had a broken leg after being hit by a car on Cayman Brac in April. She was airlifted to Grand Cayman and initially recovered at the home of Cayman Islands Department of Environment officer Mat Cottam.  

She was later flown home to Cayman Brac and recuperated at Bonnie Scott Edwards’s home before being released back into the wild, fully recovered, in July. 

 

Parrots  

Wildlife biologist Frank Rivera-Milán of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service revealed findings that showed that while Cayman’s green parrot population was almost back to pre-hurricane Ivan and Paloma numbers, there was still a chance the parrots on Cayman Brac could be extinct in 40 years.  

His studies showed that Grand Cayman’s parrot population fell to as low as 2,879, and in September, based on survey methods to calculate the number of parrots on the Island, there were about 4,300.  

On Cayman Brac after Hurricane Paloma, the population number dropped to below 300. Prior to the hurricane, there were about 560 parrots, and now there are about 425, Mr. Rivera-Milán said.  

While those numbers indicate that the birds are resilient species, they nonetheless face immediate and growing threats from encroaching development, especially in Cayman Brac, where it was possible the birds would become extinct within four decades.  

 

Stingrays  

A visiting marine veterinarian spotted some small male stingrays in a tank at Dolphin Discovery in West Bay in September and alerted conservationist Guy Harvey and the Department of Environment, who discovered the rays had been among 61 tagged at the Sandbar earlier in the year.  

A census of the population of rays at the Sandbar in 2012 showed that the numbers there have dropped. A census in January found 61 rays, another in July found 57. Censuses in earlier years have found 100 or more stingrays at the Sandbar.  

According to the dolphinarium management, the rays had been caught by fishermen and exchanged for bait. After some negotiations, Dolphin Discovery released the rays to the Department of Environment staff, who returned the four to the Sandbar.  

However, six other rays, who had not been tagged, were not freed and were retained at the tourist attraction. The removal of the rays from the wild prompted Mr. Harvey to launch a petition to call for better protection for rays. 

 

Paraquat poisoning  

Dog lovers throughout Cayman were keeping a closer eye on their pets this year during a spate of poisonings that caused the slow, horrific deaths of several dogs on Grand Cayman.  

An anonymous donor offered $2,000 for information about leading to the arrest and conviction of the dog poisoner, but by the end of December there had been no arrests.  

The Cayman Islands Humane Society reported that during the summer months, it had been getting calls about dogs being poisoned every other day across the island. A petition to ban paraquat in the Cayman Islands has been circulating since mid-2012. The online petition had attracted nearly 3,000 signature by Christmas Eve. 

 

Green iguana  

A photograph of a woman holding a little green taped to a piece of wood, which she was offering to tourists so they could pose with it for a dollar shocked readers in November.  

An animal cruelty investigator from the United States, was visiting Hell in West Bay on her holiday when she came across the woman and photographed her. It emerged that a few months earlier, another green iguana had been subjected to similar treatment by a boy in the area who was also charging tourists to pose with the animal.  

In that earlier case in June, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alerted local authorities. The Department of Agriculture subsequently warned both the boy and the woman not to display or truss up the animals. Green iguanas, unlike rock or blue iguanas, are not endangered and are considered invasive pests in Cayman.  

However, like other animals, they are protected against inhumane treatment under the Animals Law. 

 

Dolphin woes  

A lone and lonely dolphin appeared in Cayman’s waters this year.  

Nicknamed “Stinky” by some, “Randy” and “Humpy” by others, by late December the male dolphin continued to roam the sea and seems starved for company, rubbing up against boats and chains and people whenever it can.  

The dolphin, which is being monitored by the Department of Environment staff, who warn people not to get in the water with the animal or to interact physically with him, has collected many scars and cuts from coming too close to boats and is described by many who have seen him recently as listless. 

 

Conservation law  

Despite several public consultations, a number of rewrites and assurances from politicians that the National Conservation Bill would become law over the years, the bill still lies in limbo within government.  

The bill would offer better protection for the flora and fauna of the Cayman Islands, including its parrots, stingrays, marine life and all other animals.  

Since the law is considered to be a controversial one that is opposed by several developers and other parties it would affect, it is unlikely to be considered under the current minority government, which has said it will only go forward with legislation that will be backed by opposition and independent members of the Legislative Assembly, as the five-member government does not have enough votes to pass a bill on its own.  

So, Cayman looks likely to have to wait until it has a new government before the bill will appear before the House. 

Dolphin-and-Michael-Maes

Stinky the dolphin has a close encounter with underwater videographer Michael Maes. – PHOTO: ELLEN CUYLAERTS
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1 COMMENT

  1. As a land’s population continues to increase, it’s inevitable that the commercialization development of that land is going to impact its wildlife. As humans, we need to be more aware than ever, of the consequences all our actions have on our world; human, wildlife, environment, etc. Perhaps it’s time we redefined SUCCESS. If we could start replacing PROFITABILITY with SUSTAINABILITY and PERSONAL GAIN with FOR THE BENEFIT OF MANKIND NATURE, who knows, maybe, just maybe, we could start to reverse (or at least slow down) the damage we humans have caused to our world.

    I was glad to read that six Caymanians were named to receive the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honours for their contributions in SUSTAINABILITY and FOR THE BENEFIT OF MANKIND NATURE in the areas of; Services to Seamanship, Services to the Poor and Underprivileged, Services to Education and Culinary Culture, Prison Service and Rehabilitation, Services to the Community, and for the Protection of Architectural History, but, after reading this article with its alarming reports of destruction to Cayman’s wildlife, I had to wonder why there was no Caymanian named in the area of Service or Protection to the Environment and Wildlife?

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