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Thursday 17 October 2019
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The Caroni cat sanctuary

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

EARLIER THIS year I took a friend and his family from Montreal on a trip to the Caroni Swamp. While waiting for our tour boat we sat in the rundown visitors’ centre. My friend’s three young boys kicked their legs impatiently on the dirty benches surrounded by wood railings collapsed utterly by unattended wood rot.

A feline seductress appeared out of nowhere, sashaying up to the three boys. It brushed against their mosquito-mauled ankles and trembled its tail like a rattlesnake. And that was it. Thus began a long, surreal pleading with their dad to take this stray back with them to Canada.

While their father tried to explain how crazy this was, I pointed out they’d be getting at least four cats in the bargain because that little feline floozy was visibly pregnant. Who tell me say dat! The children trilled with excitement at the prospect of taking home a cat that would eventually make more cats.

Caroni Swamp tour guide Navin Kalpoo sees these cats as an absolute menace. The infestation at the Caroni Bird Sanctuary is a long-standing problem, but only one of many that led to the inexorable decline of what is supposed to be one of our premier ecotourism spots.

A recent newspaper article revealed that the challenges at the bird sanctuary have only grown worse. Tour guides, forestry workers and game wardens have been faced with a Coleridgean conundrum since last year: water, water everywhere, all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere and all the staff did stink. The centre is in arrears to WASA to the tune of about half a million dollars. This has been so since October 2018.

Infrastructure at the facility is in a state of determined decay, staff salaries are reliably late and cats are omnipresent on every inch of dry land around the visitors’ centre.

I know this because I wrote a blog about the same problems in December 2018. At that time, the road leading to points of embarkation for the swamp tours was a cringe-worthy disgrace. Abandoned buildings, derelict fishing boats, a sprawling pride (or shame) of beggarly cats and garbage are the first things any visitor sees.

Can we talk a bit more about those cats? The new star attractions of the visitors’ centre are literally chewing up the scenery. As tour operator Kalpoo observes, these feral cats are behaving very un-catlike. They’ve adapted to their new environment swimmingly, and are seen doing the breaststroke in the murky channels of the swamp to expand their territory.

They are reportedly feeding on crabs, baby manicou and young birds in their nests.

Not only are these cats an eyesore, but they are also a serious threat to this sensitive eco-system. It has been said people who, finding that one cat is more than enough, want to return them to their natural environment – which is obviously the swamp. Makes sense, though. The cats are abandoned to a facility that has been abandoned by the State. The staff at the visitors’ centre along with the cats are comrades in desertion.

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat says he is unaware of the water problem at the visitors’ centre. He did mention, however, that a site has been earmarked for the temporary rehousing of the facility. He described the current building as “outdated.” That’s why “nothing has been done.”

Clutching my rosary beads and praying the minister was misquoted, I somehow doubt it. At any rate, he announced that construction will start soon and should be completed by the end of September. It’s usually the case in this country that government-owned facilities are left to rot, and then money must be found to rebuild, only to leave the new incarnations to rot as well.

Rambharat didn’t address the cumulative neglect at the facility that is the result of abandonment by the State. There was absolutely no accounting, in his interview, for the prolonged neglect of this tourist attraction. It is doubtful that the Bajans would leave their treasured Harrison’s Cave to ruin. Does anyone believe the Jamaicans would allow the Dunn’s River Falls and park to fall apart?

But say what. We continue to recycle the same worthless ideas, ideologies and politicians. We are in turn rewarded with the destruction of all that is precious. When we’re gone, rendered to dust and vague memory by our obsession with self-defeating politics, maybe all that will be left are the cats.

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