New regulations allowing officials to sanction the poisoning of animals in certain circumstances could pave the way for the resumption of a planned cull of feral cats said to pose a threat to rare seabirds on the Sister Islands.
The publication of new regulations to the Animals Law, which list specific “prescribed poisons” that can be used to euthanize animals, effectively closes a loophole that animal welfare groups used in Grand Court to block the planned cull.
Non-profits Feline Friends and the Cayman Islands Humane Society sought leave to apply for judicial review of the decision to cull cats in February. After a preliminary hearing, the directors of the Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture were required to give a formal undertaking not to proceed with the cull until the issues raised by the two charities had been addressed.
That undertaking remains in place, though it could be lifted if the two departments are able to persuade a judge that they now have the legal right to proceed.
At the initial hearing, lawyer Selina Tibbetts told the court 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 general 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 at the time, and counsel for government was unable to point to any such regulation.
The case was adjourned to allow the departments time to respond and to provide more information to the court ahead of a decision on whether the matter should proceed to a full judicial review hearing. The case has not progressed since February. It is understood that government recognized that the legal power for the cull did not exist under the Animals Law.
However, that was addressed last month when Cabinet gazetted a list of prescribed poisons that could be used through the Animals Law (Prescribed Poisons) Regulations 2018.
Asked about the new regulations, Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick acknowledged that no such list had ever been created under the Animals Law. He said the list was implemented to remedy this.
Asked how the measure would affect the cull, he said, “The undertaking given to the court by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment was not to trap any cats on any of the three Cayman islands while this matter is before the court.”
He said the matter was still before the court and he could not comment further.
Neither the Humane Society nor Ms. Tibbetts responded to requests for comment.
The Department of Environment wants to cull wild cats on the Sister Islands which they believe are a threat to native wildlife.
Earlier this year, Jane Haakonsson, a research officer with the department, told the Compass that the cats posed a threat to the survival of Cayman Brac’s “regionally important” brown booby colony.
The passage of the new regulations does not completely negate the arguments brought by the charities, which also claimed they were legally entitled to be consulted before the cull took place.
It will be up to a judge to decide if the cull can now proceed and a new hearing in the case is expected some time this year.
In February, Feline Friends and the Humane Society said they wanted to work with government on a more humane solution.
In their statement, they said they believed homeless cat populations could be managed though a “well-handled, organized and systematic Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release program.”