Egrets, swallows and iguanas may seem cute and harmless to some, but when they make themselves at home on airport runways, they can cause delays and safety issues. It’s up to the Cayman Islands Airports Authority to figure out how to deal with them in the most humane way possible.

Airports Authority staff will be explaining some of these methods to the public and asking for input at the annual Wildlife Hazard Working Group meeting, scheduled for Monday, Nov. 28, from 10 a.m. to noon at Beacon House, next to the airport fire station.

“At this meeting, we will discuss current measures at the airport used to alleviate hazardous wildlife, as well as new measures we are taking to attract less wildlife at the airport,” Chief of Safety Management Andrew McLaughlin said in a press release.

“We’re very creative,” he added.

Graceful cattle egrets may not look menacing, but the birds can have wing spans of up to three feet. According to Mr. McLaughlin, “the bigger the bird, the more damage it can do [to aircraft].”

In a bid to deter the birds, the airport uses a fogger which deploys a light haze of bird repellent that irritates the birds’ mucous membranes.

However, when one species leaves, another is often quick to take its place.

“After the egrets left, then the swallows moved in,” said Mr. McLaughlin. The fog is capable of clearing out 500 swallows in 10 minutes.

Then there’s the air horn. When blasted for hours at a time, it does not so much repel the birds as keep new ones from landing.

And it is not just avian nuisances; reptilian ones can cause havoc, too.
“One iguana on a runway can delay a flight for hours,” said Mr. McLaughlin.

Even worse, the green iguanas seem to be getting more fearless. “They’re not so easily scared away anymore,” he said, adding that iguanas cause seven or eight flight delays per month.

If an iguana does decide to make itself at home on the runway, it needs to be trapped and released before any flights can leave.

Of course, any time animals are involved, things can get contentious. The purpose of the annual meetings is to allow the public to have a say in what the airport does to handle hazardous wildlife.

Who shows up at these meetings? “Usually about one-half the room is animal lovers,” said Mr. McLaughlin.

Due in part to public pressure, the airports have made an agreement that animals will either be repelled or, in extreme circumstances, culled, but only after every other possible method has been tried.

“Depredation is our last resort,” stressed Mr. McLaughlin.

All in all, he acknowledged that the issue with animals can only be dealt with, not solved. After all, animals were here first, he pointed out. “We in Cayman are in the middle of a migratory pattern that has gone on for hundreds of years,” he said.

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