A legal challenge to the culling of feral cats on the Sister Islands has raised questions about the legality of such animal control methods under Cayman Islands law.
At a preliminary hearing Thursday, Justice Richard Williams acknowledged the case, if it proceeds, could have implications for other culls, including efforts to control invasive green iguana populations in Grand Cayman.
Non-profits Feline Friends and the Cayman Islands Humane Society obtained a temporary injunction last week to halt a joint project by the Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture to cull feral cats believed to pose a threat to native wildlife.
The injunction was lifted Thursday after the directors of both departments gave a formal undertaking not to proceed with the project until the issues raised by the two charities had been resolved.
Justice Williams adjourned the hearing for both parties to prepare submissions for a contested hearing of the application for leave for judicial review, expected to take place in the coming weeks.
If the judge grants a judicial review, a full court case will be scheduled to argue the merits and legality of the cull.
Selina Tibbetts, representing the animal charities at Thursday’s preliminary hearing, said the challenge was about more than the appropriateness of culling cats.
“The applicants are not asking for a moral judgment of the court. What they are concerned about is legality and procedural fairness,” she said.
She indicated they would seek to argue that the Animals Law does not give the directors of the two departments the statutory scope to authorize a cull. The law does provide an exemption to the prohibition against animal cruelty for the director of the DoA to authorize the “use of any prescribed poison” to destroy an animal for a variety of reasons, including to “preserve other domestic or wild animals.”
However, under the definition set out in the law, she said a poison is only a “prescribed poison” if it is explicitly defined as such by the Animals Law or any regulation. However, no such poison is prescribed under the Animals Law, she said, and counsel for government was unable to point to any such regulation at Thursday’s initial hearing.
Reshma Sharma, for the government departments, suggested there were also elements of the National Conservation Law that provided a legal basis for such methods.
Ms. Tibbetts indicated that the Feline Friends and the Humane Society would also seek to bring an alternate argument that as members of the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, they had a legitimate expectation to be consulted on the matter before a decision was taken to cull cats.
Thursday’s hearing was not intended to argue the merits of the case in detail and was simply a preliminary discussion between the parties about the application and the documents that would be needed ahead of a more in-depth hearing to determine if a full Judicial Review can take place.
Justice Williams requested further information be provided, including when the decision for the cull was taken, by whom and on what legal basis.
“Somebody will have to show me where the departments have the authority to do this,” he added.
He said he understood that most jurisdictions had measures that protect animals and other legislation that gives power to certain authorities to depart from that general measure in certain circumstances. But he needed to see the legal basis under which the decision was taken in Cayman law.
He said he hoped there was “mutual respect” between the charities and the government departments which frequently work “hand in hand” and suggested they enter a dialogue before either party became too entrenched in their positions.
“I did get an indication that there was a mutual agreement that the feral cat situation has to be addressed. There is a recognition they are creating serious issues for wildlife on the small outer islands, though there is obviously a significant difference between the parties over how that is done at this stage.”
Ms. Sharma said the government departments would seek to discuss the matter with the charities. But she suggested a compromise would be difficult because their stated preference for a trap, neuter, vaccinate and release program was not consistent with the conservation aims.
“If it was simply a question of controlling population, that might be deemed appropriate but if you put them back into the wild where they can still have an effect on endangered species, that would still be an issue.”