A case study of sea and shorebird breeding recovery following goat and cat eradication on Klein Curaçao, southern Caribbean


Here, we document major seabird breeding recovery on a satellite island of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean following the removal of goats in 1997, significant reforestation from 2000–2005, and the extermination of cats in 2001. The only seabird to have been confirmed to breed on the island since the 1960s and until recently has been the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum). However, we now confirm nesting for an additional eight sea- and shorebird species on the island for the first time based on field observations in 2021 and 2022. The total number of documented nesting pairs annually has increased from a maximum of 140 pairs (of a single species in 2002), to > 430 pairs (of all species combined) in 2021 and 650 pairs in 2022. The dominant species are the Cayenne Tern (Thalassaeussandviscensis), Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla), Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus), and Least Tern, in that order. Breeding by the SootyTern and Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anatheus) are new national records for Curaçao. Klein Curaçao is now the island group’s most diverse and active seabird breeding location. Major threats to the nascent recovery of seabird breeding in this Ramsar-designated wetland area are the growing and uncontrolled human recreation, the repeated threat of reintroduction of feral cats, and predation by rats. Recommendations are made on measures needed to address these threats. The case study of Klein Curaçao demonstrates the potential for seabird recovery when deleterious invasive mammals are eradicated from islands.

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Research and monitoring
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The catastrophic impact of invasive mammalian predators on birds of the UK Overseas Territories: a review and synthesis


The UK has sovereignty over 16 Overseas Territories, which hold some of the world’s great seabird colonies and collectively support more endemic and globally threatened bird species than the whole of mainland Europe. Invasive alien mammalian predators have spread throughout most of the Territories, primarily since European expansion in the 16th century. Here we review and synthesize the scale of their impacts, historical and current, actions to reduce and reverse these impacts, and priorities for conservation. Mammalian predators have caused a catastrophic wave of extinctions and reductions in seabird colony size that mark the UKOTs as a major centre of global extinction. Mammal-induced declines of threatened endemics and seabird colonies continue, with four Critically Endangered endemics on Gough Island (Tristan da Cunha), St Helena and Montserrat directly threatened by invasive alien House Mice Mus musculus, Feral Cats Felis catus and rats Rattus spp. Action to reduce these threats and restore islands has been modest in comparison with other developed countries, although some notable successes have occurred and a large number of ambitious eradication and conservation plans are in preparation. Priority islands for conservation action against mammalian predators include Gough (which according to one published prioritization scheme is the highest-ranked island in the world for mammal eradication), St Helena and Montserrat, but also on Tris- tan da Cunha, Pitcairn and the Falkland Islands. Technical, financial and political will is required to push forward and fund the eradication of invasive mammalian predators on these islands, which would significantly reduce extinction risk for a number of globally threatened species. 

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring

Predation threats to the Red- billed Tropicbird breeding colony of Saba: focus on cats


Feral domestic cats (Felis catus) are recognized as one of the most devastating alien predator species in the world and are a major threat to nesting colonies of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), on Saba island, Dutch Caribbean. Cats and rats are both known to impact nesting seabirds and hence are both potential threats to the tropicbird on Saba. However, whereas the tropicbird has coexisted with rats for centuries, cats have only recently become a problem (since about 2000). Several studies from the region suggest that the tropicbird may be less-vulnerable to rats but cats have been unequivocally implicated in the depredation of tropicbird nests on Saba (unpublished data, Michiel Boeken). In this study we collected baseline data on cat and rat distribution, and cat diet and health. We also conducted 83 questionnaire interviews with Saba residents to assess their views on cats, rats, tropicbirds and the acceptability of different management options.

Two methods were used to assess cat density distribution. We used baited camera traps (73 successful 2-night deployments divided among 4 habitat categories) as an index of relative density. We also used scat densities (collected from 15,474 meters of transect from eleven trails) from which to extrapolate and compare relative cat densities in different habitats. For the study of diet we collected and analysed a total of 94 cat scats and studied the intestinal contents of 13 sacrificed feral cats.

Both scat densities and camera trap recordings showed large and statistically significant differences in cat density on trails between habitat zones. Cat densities were lowest in the lush forest habitat found at higher elevations (mean: 4 cats/km2) on the island and highest at lower coastal elevations. Densities were particularly high (mean: 286 cats/km2) in the small area surrounding the island landfill where food, consisting of human refuse and garbage was abundant. These densities are for areas along hiking- and goat-trails. These are actively selected by cats. Therefore, densities along trails cannot be simply extrapolated to the rest of the island.

While at the landfill daily incineration of garbage takes place, un-incinerated garbage is left open overnight almost every day. This provides feral cats with an ample food source. Construction of a vermin- proof, concrete overnight storage pen could greatly reduce food availability to cats and rats. Dry woodland and coastal scrub trail habitat had intermediate cat densities (respectively, 107 and 166, cat/km2). Rat density as documented using camera traps was highest in the forest habitat where food, water and shelter for rats was particularly abundant. Rat and cat density were markedly inversely related. Cats were concentrated at lower elevations and in more open areas where tropicbirds principally nest.

Diet analysis showed the feral cats on Saba are an opportunistic predator-scavenger consuming various categories of prey (mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects) as well as anthropogenic waste. Food composition of the feral cats of Saba differed significantly between habitats. Overall, rats were the most important food species of the cat, followed by reptiles and birds. However at the landfill where cat population densities were highest, birds and rats were strongly reduced in the diet, while garbage and reptiles were of greatly increased importance. Scats collected in the forest zone suggested a lower importance of rats in the diet of cats than at lower arid elevations. The cat scats collected in the urban environment had no prey species represented and were apparently all from well-fed house cats. The opportunistic and flexible food habits documented for cats in this study allows them to easily switch to seasonally abundant prey (for instance during the seabird breeding seasons).

Preliminary veterinary assessments on cats removed from the landfill showed the animals to be in overall poor health. This suggest that releasing neutered cats back into the wild without any further supporting care may be much less humane than typically assumed. Based on these results and taking into account the welfare concerns of the tropicbirds preyed upon by cats, the Saba Foundation for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SFPCA) has decided to discontinue its practice of releasing neutered unwanted cats into the wild (Trap-Neuter-Release, or TNR).

Public views regarding cats, tropicbirds and management options as assessed using a simple questionnaire and 83 questionnaire returns were obtained. Around 30% of the participants owned cats of which only about 5% were not neutered. A significant majority of respondents (66%) believed feral cats on Saba are an environmental problem. In this there was no difference between natives and expat residents. Most (44%) believed that cats were principally a problem in being a threat to wildlife. Diseases and parasites was quoted as the second-most perceived problem with feral cats (30%). Feral cats and rats scored as the two most important perceived threats to the tropicbird (respectively, 65% and 70%). When asked “how many saved tropicbirds do you think justifies the death of one cat”, 38% of Sabans and 22% of expats did not answer the question. Of those that did answer, 36% of Sabans and 48% of expats, valued the life of a tropicbird more than that of a single cat. The remainder considered cats somewhat more important than one tropicbirds but only few (5% natives, 18% expats) considered feral cats more important than the combined sum of all their tropicbird prey. Between 70-80% of respondents thought registration, neutering and removal of cats from breeding colonies was a good idea. When asked if euthanization would be acceptable to them, a significant majority (80%) found it to be an acceptable method for use in cat control. Finally, 43% even thought that total eradication of all cats (domestic and feral) from the island would be a good idea. Of the participants upwards of 80% stated that rats were also an environmental problem and more measures to control rats are supported by 75% of those interviewed. Awareness and willingness of the Saban resident population towards measures against cats and rats are clearly high. This means that there exists a wide management scope to implement measures with which to address these problems.

For more than 15 years government rat control has used brodifacoum as the main rodenticide, but rats remain a widespread and unrelenting problem on Saba. This suggests that the rats might well have become partly resistant to this anticoagulant toxin and that the time has come to alternate to a different rodenticide. Alternating use of rodenticides is the internationally recommended practice for rat control. It is already being practiced on nearby St. Eustatius where rat problems are much less acute than on Saba (but where feral fruit trees are also less abundant and landfill practices are also less favourable to vermin).

Key management recommendations:

  • Upgrade the 2004 Saba “Island Ordinance on Identification and Registration of Livestock and Domestic Animals” to prohibit the importation and keeping of unneutered cats.
  • Capacitate the SFPCA to enforce the mandatory registration of domestic animals.
  • Construct a vermin-proof concrete overnight pen at the Saba landfill (for secure storage of the garbage that might not be incinerated the same day).
  • From now on euthanize all unwanted and uncared-for stray and feral nuisance cats.
  • Judiciously use humane euthanization to address the acute overpopulation of cats in particularly sensitive areas (such as the mapped seabird colonies) as this is quite acceptable to Saban residents.
  • Start use of a new alternative rodenticide, following the example from St. Eustatius.
  • Management measures need to be accompanied by an (inter)active and effective communication plan to keep public support levels high.

Key recommendations for research:

  • Investigate the role of rats as predators, not only with respect to seabirds but also in the forested zone where they are most abundant and may seriously impact native forest species.
  • Assess the effect of cat removal on tropicbird breeding success and on rat population density, as well as the broader predator-prey relationships on the island. 
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Research and monitoring
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