Feral cats present a threat to the survival of a rare seabird colony on Cayman Brac, according to Department of Environment researchers.
DoE staff conducted surveys of the brown booby colony on the Brac earlier this month and found several more carcasses. They believe almost 10 percent of the small colony, designated as “regionally important,” has been preyed on by cats in the past year.
A project, involving the DoE and Department of Agriculture, to cull feral cats in the area was shelved after two animal welfare groups mounted a legal challenge earlier this year.
The two government departments were required by the judge to give an undertaking not to trap cats until the dispute was resolved. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said Monday that the undertaking was still in place. She said the Department of Agriculture may need to seek changes to regulations to allow them to trap and euthanize feral cats as originally planned. No one from the Department of Agriculture was immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, researchers say the brown booby population continues to be under threat.
Jane Haakonsson, a research officer who led surveys on the Brac earlier this month, said researchers found six carcasses on the beach.
“We were finding dead birds every day. It was heartbreaking,” she said.
“They are not preyed on for food. It is most likely to be a thrill kill thing, which is common among feral cats.”
Earlier this year, researchers reported seven carcasses discovered in a similar fashion on the Brac.
“That is the ones we know about,” Ms. Haakonsson said. “There may be others that have been washed out to sea or removed by other scavengers.”
The end of nesting season has brought a brief reprieve for the adult birds, with most now roosting in the coconut trees. But Ms. Haakonsson is concerned that they will be an easy target once they start nesting again.
She said population surveys conducted over the last two years indicated there were 75 nesting pairs of brown boobies left on the Brac.
With a total of at least 13 birds lost to predation in the past nesting season, she is concerned that the colony is under threat.
“It is a really urgent situation for the boobies on the Brac,” she said. “It is definitely a threat to the survival of the population. It is a regionally important colony and it is small enough now that they can’t withstand this kind of predation.”