Travelers urged to leave ‘pests’ behind

Cayman has collaborated with a number of American agencies to launch a “Don’t Pack a Pest” program, which aims to educate travelers and prevent them from importing pests, government officials announced Wednesday. 

The program, which started in the United States in 2010, uses signs and videos to educate airline passengers on the threats posed by invasive species to the world’s agriculture and natural environments. Travelers are also encouraged to declare agriculture items.  

Among the arsenal of initiatives Cayman has to combat the importation of unwanted pests is a brown and white beagle named Maya. 

Maya and her handler Sharon Davis make up Cayman’s Dog Detector Team. Maya demonstrated for guests at a presentation of the new program on Wednesday how she was able to sniff out agricultural items hidden in suitcases. The dog is used to conduct random searches at the airport, and according to staff, she frequently finds undeclared agricultural items.  

Cayman’s Dog Detector Team is the only one in the Caribbean used to detect agricultural goods, officials said.  

“The cost of invasive species to the U.S. economy last year was $120 billion, which is an astounding figure,” said Albert Anderson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airport Authority.  

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection attended the launch of the program in Cayman at Owen Roberts International Airport. 

Cayman implemented the program over a six-week period, officials said, joining four other Caribbean islands in adopting the program. Cayman travelers will now notice various signs, as well as a 60-second video on display at the airport and the George Town port. 

“We are partnered with Jamaica, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and recently with the Dominican Republic and today we add Cayman Islands to that family of partners protecting agriculture,” said Denise Feiber of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

Ms. Feiber highlighted the dangers of undeclared agriculture items by noting the recent pest infestation in Miami, where staff have collected more than 140,000 Giant African land snails, which were imported by a passenger. 

“Staff of 50 full-time employees are working around the clock to contain and eradicate this pest that has attacked over 500 plants … can carry a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans and animals, lives for nine years and grows to 8 inches,” she said.  

Ms. Feiber said infestations like this one underscore the importance of educating travelers. “This pest was smuggled in by a passenger in their luggage, so this is a sobering example of why it is so important that we continue to promote this program,” she said. 

According to Kurt Tibbetts, the minister responsible for agriculture, Cayman has had its share of pest infestations. 

“We have witnessed numerous introductions of these pests and diseases, from mealy bugs, to scale [insects], white flies, and a host of new viral and fungal diseases,” he said.  

Cayman had an infestation of the pink mealy bug in 2006 which attacked 25 different local plant species. 

Mr. Tibbetts added, “Today’s launch of Don’t Pack a Pest outreach and education program is another step forward in combating this very serious threat.”  

He said the partnership with the U.S. would help the Department of Agriculture in terms of resources.  

“Small territories like ours have neither the financial nor human resources to deal with all of the potential challenges that our agriculture sector faces, yet by us working with our neighbors we can tap into their strengths and their resources for a mutual benefit,” he said.  


Sharon Davis and Maya work together to detect undeclared agriculture items. – PHOTO: SAMANTHA BONHAM.

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