Some might consider the small possum known as a sugar glider to be harmless – even cute. But there is nothing benign about the illegal importation of exotic animals into the Cayman Islands.
That’s why officials must be more forthcoming about the ongoing investigation into the alleged smuggling of a sugar glider on a Cayman Airways flight from Miami, which led to the discovery of a veritable menagerie of non-native reptiles and snakes at a Grand Cayman property.
The idea that foreign species of snakes are being brought on island is enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine. But more poisonous than any snake is the toxic uncertainty of not knowing how widespread and how deeply entrenched the illegal exotic animal trade may be in Cayman.
How did a contraband animal find its way onto a Cayman Airways jet? Common sense tells us the smugglers either found a way to beat airport security in Miami or they enlisted the help of someone there.
It certainly would not be the first time airport or airline employees were involved in circumventing the law. We well remember the 2015 case involving a ramp coordinator for Cayman Airways who was involved in evading duty for cigarettes imported into the island.
Nor would it be the first failure of security in a U.S. airport, where weary travelers must wait in long lines, empty their pockets and shed their shoes and belts in the name of public safety, but where (as we’ve seen repeatedly) contraband items commonly make it through to Cayman without detection.
How often have security officers at Owen Roberts International Airport spotted security risks that other airports have missed? We would not have enough space here to list all the instances of outbound visitors caught with ammunition in their luggage, even if we used “bullet points.”
As Magistrate Valdis Foldats remarked during a case in January, “It seems that people in different countries, with different laws from ours, don’t seem to take it seriously.”
And while ammunition might seem a greater threat than “exotic pets,” the fact of the matter is bullets don’t procreate. Animals can – and do.
Consider the devastation wreaked by the estimated thousands of Burmese pythons (descendants of discarded pets) on the Everglades in Florida, or, closer to home, the estimated one million green iguanas in Grand Cayman.
Cayman residents well know how quickly unchecked populations of even seemingly harmless species – such as dogs, cats and chickens – can grow to become a nuisance, encroaching upon native flora and fauna. Some – such as lionfish – can decimate entire ecosystems. And some, such as disease-carrying species of mosquitoes – threaten the health of the human population.
One reason why answers have been slow in coming in this smuggling case may be the proliferation of bureaucratic agencies connected to this issue: the Customs Department, Department of Agriculture, National Conservation Council, Department of Environment, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and Cayman Airways, to name a few.
To date, requests for comment have been directed to Collector of Customs Charles Clifford, who has opted to keep information close to his vest – overly close, we believe.
It is a diktat of human nature that when information is lacking, people will draw their own conclusions or invent their own reality. Factual information is our only antidote for misinformation, and we would encourage Mr. Clifford to be as forthcoming as possible with the public as this story of illegal importation of exotic species into the Cayman Islands unfolds ….