I’m sad to say, friends, that the end of our trip is nearing. We were able to visit some amazing sites around the island over the past several days, but even that was somewhat of a hasty tour; we could spend weeks and weeks here, and still not see as much of everything that we would like. It’s honestly a bit ridiculous that this modestly sized island could harbor so many breath-taking sights and such natural beauty. I definitely foresee a return trip.
As we will have spent three weeks here touring the island and getting a feel for the relationship between Bahamians and animals, staying at Shaun’s house and working on a project for him to boot, the Rotary Club of Eleuthera asked us to give a presentation of our work and a summary of our findings/recommendations tonight at their meeting. We saw our friend Julian, our savior from Lighthouse Beach, there; and the rest of them were just as friendly and welcoming as Julian (and everyone, in fact) has been to us. They were very happy to listen to what we had to say, and asked plenty of questions.
I’ve discussed a lot of our findings and thoughts along the way, but this would be as good an opportunity as any I suppose to summarize them for you, as we did for the Rotarians. Let’s start with wildlife. Like all of The Bahamas, Eleuthera has an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, especially sea life. There are only a few types of inland ecosystems, and not so many species of consideration or concern; some invasive species are already prevalent, but don’t seem to pose any problems at present. Since fishing is the major industry on the island, it is in the water that we would find the biggest concerns. The government has already recognized the threat to sea turtles and sharks by outlawing any fishing of them whatsoever. Additionally, a threat to the Nassau grouper and the spiny lobster is apparent, as seasons have been established to only allow their fishing outside of mating season. As with any such law, though, compliance and enforcement must be maintained. The extent to which an impact on a single species affects the entire aquatic ecosystem can potentially be staggering, especially in the reef micro-environments so prevalent in the archipelago.
As far as domestic species are concerned, it comes down to a culture. The potcakes exist because Bahamians simply are not as coddling of their pets as people in the States or other parts of the world are. Say what you will about that, but take heart that we did not see a single potcake in our entire time here that was emaciated or appeared in very poor health. Their health problems are limited to the typical ecto- and endo-parasites, i.e. fleas, ticks, and heartworms. These certainly affect quality of life; heartworms especially are a difficult to treat disease which can lead to a slow, potentially suffering death. Prevention of all of these things is possible, but expensive. Flea, tick, and heartworm prevention typically ranges from $15-25 per month for each animal in the States, possibly costing more here; and requires strict owner compliance to be effective, something that even the most loving owners struggle with back home.
The most significant problem to be addressed with the potcakes is a matter of overcrowding. Abandonment, poisoning, and other grievances of welfare seem to be prevalent simply because there are too many roaming around, and to control population, you must control breeding. Pet Pals is doing their part to round up potcakes for neutering and adoption, but can certainly use the support of donors and the community to keep up their work. We were able to confirm some effectiveness, with reports that the number of roaming potcakes is decreasing. By controlling the breeding of already stray animals, and reinforcing owner responsibility and preventing the release of new breeding individuals, the population can be effectively controlled and problems like attacks on humans and the potential for disease can be curbed. It will take time, though, as all things do; the good news is that the situation appears to be on the right track.
Many of the Rotarians followed our presentation with good, insightful questions, but I want to mention one in particular. A member asked what we thought about the feral cat situation, since we had focused mainly on dogs. I don’t think that I’ve even mentioned the cats in this blog yet, but it is true that there are a large number of feral cats on the island along with the potcakes. We answered rather honestly but humbly that we really did not have a good answer for her. The United States is trying to deal with a massive feral cat problem right now, but still hasn’t come up with a good solution, either. If you were to tell me that you could simply go out and catch the cats and round them all up, then I would tell you one more way to waste your time; anyone who has ever tried to take a cat to the vet’s office would tell you the same. It simply isn’t happening. I really don’t know what could be humanely done about such a problem; fortunately, cats typically do not seem to be as prone to disease as dogs, and are quite hardy animals. It’s just a problem that needs to be avoided where it can be, by capturing and neutering when possible, and keeping new breeding individuals from being released.
After the presentation, we hung around and chatted with the Rotarians a bit. Ian, one of Holly’s friends from previous visits, wants to take us out fishing in the morning, which will no doubt prove to be awesome. The remainder of the evening was filled with a little celebration for ourselves and a bit of wine pinched from the meeting, but we don’t really have much to report about that…