Letter: Euthanise Sister Islands’ feral cats

It has been over a year since the government initiative to control the stray cat populations on the Sister Islands was stymied by two animal advocacy organisations in Grand Cayman, Feline Friends and the Cayman Islands Humane Society.

The primary intent of the government programme was to mitigate the proven devastating impact that predation (hunting and killing) by these stray, feral animals is having on the native wild fauna (song birds, seabirds, and reptiles) of the Sister Islands.

Of the most urgent concerns are the critically endangered Sister Islands rock iguanas. They are a unique species, found only on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and nowhere else in the world. Not to be confused with invasive green iguanas, like the blues in Grand Cayman, the Sister Islands rock iguanas are our iguanas.

At the last count in 2015, there were an estimated 2,900 or so rock iguanas in Little Cayman and perhaps 200 in Cayman Brac. Predation by feral cats is one of the top threats to hatchlings and young rock iguanas and thus to the survival of the species.

Government had been proceeding with a programme to euthanise (humanely put down) feral cats on Little Cayman and got as far as micro-chipping pets to prevent them from mistakenly being included. The two organisations objected to euthanasia and blocked the programme from continuing in court filings based on a ‘loophole’ in the Animals Law regulations. This ‘loophole’ has since been closed. Nothing further, however, has happened.

At the time, the organisations proposed trap, neuter, vaccinate, release (TNVR) as a more humane alternative to euthanasia. It is not.

Putting down unwanted stray animals is sad and the necessity of doing so tragic. But even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), arguably the most passionate protector of animal rights, accepts euthanasia as legitimate and preferable to, ‘Turning unwanted animals loose to roam the streets …’.

As a former long-time cat owner (Elvis, Butthead, Ripley, Scooter, Skittles and Mako, all unwanted by their owners or strays taken in), a trip to the Little Cayman garbage dump to witness the pitiful state of the warren there breaks my heart. Facilitating feral cats to continue to live in the wild by advocating TNVR is based on a fond belief that they are fine and happy. They are not. It is not an idyllic life in the country for them. It is a miserable, wretched existence and they are suffering terrible deprivations; no shelter, no fresh water, are starving, diseased, no treatment for injuries, and worst of all, unloved.

TNVR is a lose-lose proposition for the feral cats and the native animals. It may soothe one’s mind but it does nothing to help the cats and, of course, the released cats continue to kill the native wildlife.

With another rock iguana hatching season approaching, it is urgent to restart the control programme now. As a full-time resident of Little Cayman and a volunteer helping rock iguana conservation efforts, I implore Feline Friends and the Cayman Islands Humane Society to drop their opposition to euthanising feral cats on the Sister Islands and redirect their energies to ensuring that the programme is carried out using accepted methods and to international standards by well trained and caring staff in a compassionate manner.

As animal advocacy organisations, you not only have a responsibility to pets, you have a duty to NOT contribute to the extinction of an entire species through misplaced altruism.

Gregory S. McTaggart