Wildlife in Cayman

| 09/09/2009

I was in Savannah Primary School recently and saw a very young boy wearing a shirt with “Man o’ War” (Frigate Bird) printed on the back of his shirt. I also saw other children with “Swallow” and “Nightingale” on theirs.

I asked the boy what ‘Man o’ War’ meant. He told me that it is a bird, but when I asked him what it looked like he had no idea at all and nor did any other child I asked.

Before you have critical thoughts of him or the school, please consider this: I have lived in my house by the sea in Prospect since 2005. When we first came here I used to sit in a reclining chair and gaze up into the sky and watch between five and ten Frigate Birds gliding around, never flapping their wings and creating a wonderful spectacle.

Also, four years ago a beautiful bird – I think it was an Osprey – would fly east along the shoreline at around 11 am every morning and come back flying west at about 4 pm. I have not seen an Osprey for more than 2 years.

I rarely dozed off in my recliner as I was prevented from doing so by the incessant chatter of Ching Chings, and if they were quiet I was kept awake by the raucous noise of parrots squabbling in the surrounding palms. On the grass or on the eaves of surrounding houses were Mocking Birds and occasionally I would see a snake slither past. When I stood up I had to be careful not to step on a lizard.

In the last two years they have all gone. No Frigate Birds, no Osprey, no Ching Chings or Mocking Birds and never a parrot to be seen or heard. I never see a snake nowadays either. There are still lizards but nothing like as many as there were. I think the reason for that is my neighbours’ cats.
There is not a word of exaggeration in the above. I can’t prove what the wildlife here was like four years ago but anyone sitting on my verandah today would see the almost total absence of wildlife.

On the plus side there are green iguanas now where there never were any before (I would rather there were none but that is a different issue) and many frogs but I never see them until after sunset. During the day it is a wildlife desert.

All this in just two or three years which, in geological time, is a period so short to be immeasurable.

Try to imagine this:

It is September 2069. Grandfather and grandson are sitting in an apartment on the top floor of a building that was built by a British merchant bank in 2001. The bank left years ago when it became obvious that the Cayman boom years were over. They are looking out over a view of run down, dilapidated buildings, a bit like Havana is today.

Grandson: Grandpa. Why is that area of North Sound called Stingray City?

Grandpa: Sighs and gives a weary shrug. Well, when I was a boy, there used to be a sandbar there and you could stand in the water and it was so shallow that the water only came up to your waist. Stingrays, which are a kind of fish, would swim around you and bump into your legs and all the American girls would squeal and scream. Some of the boat captains would sometimes lift the stingrays out of the water, even though they were told not to, and the tourists – that’s what we called the people who came here on holiday – would take photos.

Grandson: Stood in the water? Don’t be silly. It’s five metres deep there.

Grandfather: It was only a metre deep then and you know that rocky reef further out to sea? That’s not really rock. It’s actually the remains of an animal called coral. When it all died their hard, outer casings remained and became a rock. That will all wear away eventually and then the whole of North Sound will be attacked by the waves and disappear.

Grandson: Why did the coral die Grandpa?

Grandfather: No one knows. They did tests before they dredged the channel to allow the 120 foot yachts in and the results said that there would be little environmental impact but the coral started to die straight after it was dug.

Grandson: Was that all before Mum and Dad moved to the Brac?

Grandfather: Yes, of course. The tourists stopped coming. The hotels were empty. Your Dad’s business was about to collapse and they got out just in time. I stayed and lots of others did too because they couldn’t afford to move out. All the Americans, Canadians, British, Filipinos, Cubans and ‘Honduranians’ just went home. There used to be sixty thousand people on island. Now there are only five thousand of us but there are thirty thousand on the sister islands.

Grandson: Could it happen there too one day?

Grandfather: It could. The environment is a very fragile thing. Let’s just hope that the politicians give it a much higher priority than they used to.


Far fetched? We will see.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    "There are many places worse than here…"  – this is a standard argument used all around the world to justify local environmental degradation. In fact, the only place in the world which cannot use this arguement is the worst place… in the whole world. I am not sure where that would be, Haiti, or some industrial wasteland in Russia or China, maybe. Ofcourse, even they could use the arguement "At least it is better here in Haiti than on the surface of the Moon… at least we have an atmosphere…".

    Comparing yourself to the worse places in the world is weak arguement. It may be stating the obvious, but you don’t actually live in other places in the world, you live were you live, so the fact that somewhere else is even worse than you should really be about as much comfort as comparing your local situation with living on the Moon.

    As far as a "ratio" goes, the ratio of pristine to man-modifed land in Grand Cayman was about 50:50… in 1986. It should come as little surprise to most to hear that there is less pristine land now than there was then.

    Given that parrot habitat is just one of the many natural habitats which have degraded over this time, it seems quite unlikely that there are "more parrots than ever on the island". I think it is more likely that natural habitat loss combined with the availability of exotic fruits has pushed the remaining population into conflict with fruit growers… rather in the same way that people who build their homes in a Florida swamp tend to see more alligators.


  2. Peter Weller says:

    I am bewildered by the posting by Anonymous (of course) Friday 09/11/2009 – 18:02.

    How can he try to turn an account of fact into an anti expat tirade? The second part of the article is, by definition, fiction. It is something that is not true or does he think that a little girl called Alice really did fall down a rabbit hole?

    The first part is only fiction if Mr Wilton is lying. He may well be. Perhaps he has something against the little boy he spoke to, or Savannah School in general. I think he probably is not. He may be exaggerating of course but we don’t know.

    How a Caymanian can get soangry and upset by such an article is inexplicable, at least by me.

    I’ve recently posted something under the, "Bar robbed at gun point" story. I suggest that, "Anonymous Friday 09/11/2009 – 18:02," reads it and has a long, hard think.

  3. anon1 says:

    I enjoyed this article for the fiction that it is. There is no develoupment in the central mangrove ecosystem and lots of natural habitat. Oh yes…… that was saved by Caymanians like the Chisholms and the Connellys…… so of course it is not worth giving them praise for their forsight …. they are true  Caymanians and don’t have a brain. They need a good overseas expert or the National Trust to teach them how to preserve the natural enviornment.

    You don’t see those things you lament because you chose to live where the rich people live and not mix with the natives in East End and North Side. We have plenty of those up there …. and yes too many parrots.

    If you want Caymanians to give your suggestions more credence, try talking to us like intellegent human beings, you will be surprised by our wealth of knowledge.

    In the end you come off as another someone who came here from the mountains and is trying to tell us how to live on flat land.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well there you have it, Mr. Wilton, according to "anon1" there is plenty of environment in Cayman, in fact too much environment in some places. Phew… now we can all sleep soundly once again, safe in the knowledge that, far from degarding before our eyes, Cayman’s environment is annoyingly healthy and going from strength to strength… in fact, this is not an enviornmental issue at all, but apparently one of "Caymanians" v’s "expats"… (rather like most other issues seem to be). I for one am very relieved – I thought that our environment was something to worry about for a moment… but now I know that I must have just imagined all those quarries expanding out into the mangroves.

      • Terry Wilton says:

        Try not to worry about it but it does mean that you are as dim and misguided as I am.

        What I don’t understand is why he is so angry.


        • Anonymous says:

          I suspect his anger problem comes from his insecurity.  It usually does.  Anon1 is right up there with the angriest of them.  The story could be "Man in Spain gored by bull" and he would find an expat/Caymanian angle on it.

          • anon1 says:

            I have broken out the popcorn and sodas and will watch to see where these diverse comments are going.

            While I am waiting, I invite any of you pundits to do some maths. Calculate how much undevelouped land there is in the central areas of Grand Cayman and work out, as a precentage, what the ratio of undevelouped land is to develouped land, then compare it to other European or North American countries, then let the CNSreaders know how Cayman stacks up. I think you wil be surprised at how well we do stack up.

            Please do not include me in the land grabbers who want to see these undevelouped areas develouped. I happen to be one of those Caymanian families who own undevelouped land that I will not sell, nor develoup and that make up a part of the unspoiled central mangrove wetlands. What has been your or Mr. Wilton’s contribution in this regard?

            I am also one of those land owners who am often dismayed by the damage done to my mango trees by the random distruction carried out by teh parrot. I am also one of the first people to implement the envoirnmentally friendly noise makers that help to keep these parrots at bay. I also do mot believe for a minute that there is any truth to the claim that a poster witnessed 60 parrots being shot anywhere in the Cayman Islands at one time. Surely this would heve made the front page of one or our local media houses.

            I am not angry with you nor Mr. Wilton. I am angry by the fact that people chose to come to the Cayman Islands and live in the overpopulated areas, over populate it some more, then lament the lack of wildlife. Why not plant some mango trees in your yard (they grow anywhere in Cayman you know) so that the parrots can come to your yard and feed and spread the burden some?

            If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

            • Anonymous says:

              "Calculate how much undevelouped land there is in the central areas of Grand Cayman and work out, as a precentage, what the ratio of undevelouped land is to develouped land, then compare it to other European or North American countries,then let the CNS readers know how Cayman stacks up. I think you wil be surprised at how well we do stack up."

              Have you flown across continental America or ever been to the wilderness in Canada?  When it comes to Europe you have a point, especially in relation to say the UK and the Benelux countries, but with North America you have no chance of making out your case.

            • Terry Wilton says:

              I am nor certain of the rules to do with the Viewpoint column and whether I should be answering points I made originally. If you are able to read this then I guess it’s OK.

              I made no mention of, "land grabbers." I did not make any judgement on the development or absence of development in Cayman. It is not my place to do that. All I did was buy a condo that had been built twenty or thirty years earlier. I did not buy virgin land, clear the land and alter the environment by doing so. I live where I do because I like it. I did not come to live here for the wildlife. That was a bonus and it has disappeared so quickly that I was not really aware of it until I talked to the boy at Savannah.

              I am not lamenting the lack of wildlife. I commented on the change that has occurred in only two years. Surely you must be worried about that too.

              My concern is to do with the speed of the change. It is not natural and we must somehow be behind it. 

              I do have four mango trees behind my house and last year they were groaning under the weight of the fruit. One day a truck pulled up beneath them and three men got out, put up ladders and picked every one. I assumed they were sent by the Strata and I even took them drinks to help them in their hardwork on a very hot day. They were brazen thieves. I wish that parrots had got there first.

  4. Roger U says:

    Why is the wildlife disappearing? I have no idea except I am pretty sure that man had a part to play somewhere in the process.

    Just as interesting is:

    1)  Why do you never see white dog poo any more?

    2)  What is the point of wasps?

    3)  Why, last year, did I overhear someone in Sports Supply ask if they stocked sledges?

    They don’t by the way. 

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a though provoking article. I thoroughly enjoyed it – however as a Bracka not sure I like the ending for us.

    • Anonymous says:

      Bracka, realize that as long as you allow developers and politicians to convince the people of Cayman Brac that a strict Development Plan for Cayman Brac is bad then Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will be destroyed just like Grand Cayman has been destroyed by corrupt politicians and corrupt developers who believe that "BIGGER IS BETTER".

      If you love it then get up shout out fight to protect it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    coral will die out from coral bleaching…slight temperature raise in the water will be enough…not from dredging

    though I agree with the point of the article

  7. Mozzie Fodder says:

    A few ideas for the melting pot:

    Green iguanas may be competing for the same soil that snakes use for nesting. Add that to the loss of natural habitats in the area due to development and the number of nest sites will decrease.

    Fire ants are really good at destroying eggs from any creature, bird or reptile.

    Rats also take eggs as a delicious snack.

    Clearing of mangroves and swamp for development reduces available nesting sites for many birds.

    Lack of food – if the fish populations are down in a particular area, birds relying on fish for food will move to where their prey is more prevalent.

  8. Dennis Smith says:

    Maybe the iguanas ate all the bird eggs and the chickens everything else, baby snakes? I’m told that iguana is good eating, now if someone would open a jerk iguana stand…..

  9. Any says:

    Very touching article, I wish more people felt the same way as you.

    As for the parrots I don’t know if you saw the article a couple of weeks back about a farmer that killed 90 in one day but since it was a caymanian you hardly heard people complaining about someone killing the national bird, all I hear is people about killing iguanas and chickens.

  10. Anon says:

    Metres?…..are you suggesting Cayman move over to the continental system of measurements?…now that is far fetched……..

    • Terry Wilton says:

      Yes, I used ‘metre’ deliberately but it is not a continental system of measurement. It is international. It is the system used by the rest of the world apart for the USA, Cayman and other US satellite territories.

      I hope that by 2069 we will have joined everyone else and fill our cars with litres (not gallons or liters) of petrol (not gas) and have a speed limit of 60 kph  (not 40mph). That probably is far fetched though.

      Terry Wilton

      • Imp Erial says:

        Oh come on, dividing by 12 or 14 or 1760 is must easier than havin to work in 10’s, 100’s or 1000’s – we you not taught your 1760 times table at school?

  11. da wa ya get says:

    Hope it never comes to pass…

  12. Imp Erial says:

    Grandson: Grandpa. Why is that area of North Sound called Stingray City?

    Grandpa: What do you mean North Sound?   This is all part of the lagoon formally known as the West Bay corridor.  All this area used to beabove sea level and was known as Seven Mile Beach.