Poisons regulation to close cat cull loophole

Researchers fear feral cats present a threat to the survival of Cayman Brac's brown booby population.

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.”

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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.”

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  1. It is an unfortunate turn of events that the departments of Agriculture and Environment have been stalled in their efforts to protect Cayman’s wild and native bird populations from domestic and feral cats, all of which are non-native. In particular, the Brown Booby colony on Little Cayman is at risk because two animal welfare organizations (Cayman Islands Humane Society and Feline Friends) have blocked the departments’ efforts of trapping and poisoning the cats. While there have been recent regulatory changes that should allow the government to move ahead with their plans to protect the Boobies, the case languishes in Grand Court due to a temporary injunction filed by the two animal welfare groups.
    The two organizations are, according to the Compass article “… ‘acutely aware’ of the hardships faced by indigenous wildlife in Cayman”. They further state “… that the homeless cat population on Little Cayman can be managed though a well-handled, organized and systematic Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release program, known as ‘TNVR’”.
    It is baffling that these organizations who are so dedicated to the humane treatment of animals see nothing wrong in releasing neutered cats back into the wild effectively allowing them to continue killing native birds and mammals. The only thing solved by the TNVR program is that the released cats won’t be reproducing. This so-called solution is disingenuous and vile, because it deliberately promotes the killing of Cayman’s native wildlife.
    Let’s have a quick review of some facts about what pet cats are up to when we let them outside. What they’re doing is killing birds, reptiles and mammals with impunity. Cats are ranked on the “100 worst non-native invasive species in the world.” Cats are credited with causing the extinction of 63 species worldwide. There are around 86 million pet cats in the US, and it is these same pets who are responsible for killing 4 billion birds and 22 billion mammals each year. In the UK, 55 million birds are killed by cats every year.
    In a welcome show of fortitude and intelligence, the town of Omaui, in New Zealand, is attempting to rid the region of cats by forcing cat owners “to neuter, microchip and register their cats. After their pet dies, cat lovers in the community will then not be allowed to get any more.” This proposal, sponsored by Environment Southland, is viewed as a pest management scheme intended to protect the region’s natural heritage. Yes, cats in Omaui are seen as invasive pests. The Cayman Islands Humane Society and Feline Friends could learn a thing or two about the humane conservation of wildlife from the town council in Omaui, not to mention the wise and well-intentioned efforts by our own government departments of Agriculture and Environment to protect the Brown Boobies of Little Cayman by humanely trapping and poisoning cats.

  2. As stated above, the proposal for a Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate & Release scheme is either naive or disingenuous. It will do absolutely nothing to address the problem of feral cats predating the native brown booby population. Whether or not the cats are mating, they still have to eat. They have already done enormous damage to the booby population. We cannot allow that damage to continue while we wait for the cat population to decline as neutered animals die off.