RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?


raccoon_procyon_lotor_2 wiki

RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?

Abaco, like the rest of the Bahama Islands, is strangely short of native land mammals. The last of the wild ABACO BARBS – descendants of Spanish Colonial horses of high pedigree – died very recently. The proud Barbs are no more. But they, of course, were an introduced species. There are the hard-breeding, hard-hunted hogs. And feral potcakes, unowned or disowned. Many feral cats. Maybe a few rabbit escapees. And bats: several of the dozen (or so) Bahamas species are found on Abaco. At one time there was the shy nocturnal HUTIA that had the distinction of being – or having been – endemic to many of the islands. Not on Abaco, sadly – its own subspecies the Great Abaco Hutia had become extinct by the c17. You’ll have to go to the Exumas to see a hutia.

HEY! THERE ARE RACCOONS, AREN’T THERE?

This endearing-looking creature was photographed on Abaco by Charmaine AlburyRaccoon, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

Raccoons are a non-native species, probably introduced in the Bahamas many decades – perhaps a couple of centuries – ago. They are thought to have been brought to New Providence originally. More recently they arrived on Abaco – possibly as pets in the first place, which were then released or escaped. And they are spreading: as recently as April 2012 an excellent article in the Bahamas edition of COASTAL ANGLER MAGAZINE introduced “Eleuthera’s Newest Mammal”.

Raccoon (Cheryl Wile Ferguson)

RACOON PROS

  • Cuddly, furry, cute-looking, quite high on the well-known scientifically-based ‘ADORBS’ scale (Animals Deemed Outrageously, Ridiculously, Breathtakingly Strokeable)
  • Comfortingly familiar despite being wild animals (NB potentially aggressive)
  • Don’t have the same drawbacks as skunks
  • Have valuable fur
  • Pelts can be used for Davy Crockett hats
  • raccoon-danny-sauvageau

RAC-CONS

  • Considered to be “one of the world’s most omnivorous animals”
  • Known to wreak havoc with certain crops, eg watermelons
  • Canny and adept hunters, including at night; good climbers to treetop level
  • Suspected of predation of land crabs (depriving ‘natural’ predators of the pleasure)
  • Compete with birds for fruit, berries and nectar
  • Relish birds’ eggs. Low and ground-nesting birds are particularly at risk throughout season
  • On Abaco, a major conservation program has been needed to protect the nests of the Abaco parrots in the limestone caverns of the national park from raccoons, feral cats and rodents
  • Eat small birds, curly tail lizards, anoles and suchlike
  • Can be aggressive to humans – note the handy claws clearly shown in the photo above

A shy raccoon in a tree, Treasure Cay (Becky Marvil)raccoon-abaco-becky-marvil

LIVE AND LET LIVE?

“The authors of the study Taxonomic status and conservation relevance of the raccoons of the West Indies (2003) hold that the Bahamian raccoon is an invasive species which itself poses a threat to the insular ecosystem.The Government of the Bahamas has this species listed as up for eradication on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama”.

So the official line favours eradication of a potentially harmful non-native species – failing which, presumably containment of numbers. Trapping is one way to achieve this – and there are both humane as well as cruel ways to do so. However, trapping in one place, only to release somewhere else is clearly not an option. But it would provide the opportunity to neuter / spay the animals and slow or prevent the reproductive spread of the creatures. Hunting raccoons is another method.  It’s not currently a significant sport, but neither are raccoons protected. Their fur has a value, and some say they could provide a source of somewhat gamey meat.

Or they could be just left as they are, as attractive creatures now well-established, despite the inevitable risks to native species such as the reviving population of Abaco parrots, now at sustainable numbers. On Abaco, reduced to its basics the $64k question might be: which would you prefer in the future? More raccoons or fewer parrots (or indeed, no parrots at all)?

Raccoons exhibited in the Garden of the Groves, Freeport, Grand Bahama (neutered /spayed)raccoons-nassau-bahamas-weekly

PUMPKIN

I wouldn’t wish to run the risk of influencing the delicately balanced arguments about the raccoons of the Bahamas, but will you just take a look at this? The perfect fit for the acronymic descriptor A.D.O.R.B.S!

Coastal Angler magazine, BNT / Erika Gates, Bahamas Weekly, Charmaine & Becky for the Abaco photos, plus Wiki / open source, Buzzfeed / YouTube & don’t get stuck into the rest of the cutesy viddys… Stop Press: added above the pros & cons – a great recent photo by Cheryl Wile Ferguson (nb not taken on Abaco)

At least as far as stamps are concerned, the raccoon gets equal billing with the hutia (and the bat)bahamastamp

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO


Peahen, %22Different of Abaco%22 2 (Rhonda Pearce)

“AN OSTENTATION OF PEACOCKS”: FERAL BIRDS ON ABACO

A year or so ago I wrote a post entitled SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”, a nod to Monty Python and to Nettica Symonette’s long-defunct fishing lodge on the road to Casuarina that it still proudly signposted on the Highway. You can click the link to see the full post and plenty of peacocks. Or, as I mentioned then, peafowl (only the males are peacocks; the females are peahens; and the little ones are peachicks).

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

“Different of Abaco” is a great place for birding. An overgrown wilderness with brackish ponds and a *dangerous structure alert* dilapidated building, it was once home to Nettie’s flamingos, reintroduced by her in the hope of reinstating Abaco’s lost breeding population. The experiment did not come off, but another one did. The legacy of her introduction of a few peacocks is very evident today: they have bred very successfully and provide an exotic – and noisy – addition to the breeding bird species on Abaco.

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 3 (Rhonda Pearce)

The evidence from reports suggests that the peafowl are spreading from their base at Different of Abaco and the local Casuarina area. Celia Rogers saw 2 males on the Cherokee road, some 3 or 4 miles to the north. And Rhonda Pearce has more recently found them at the entrance to Bahama Palm Shores, some way to the south (below).

 Peacock, Bahama Palm Shores Abaco 2 (Rhonda Pearce)    Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco 1 (Rhonda Pearce)

Extent of peafowl range from reported sightingsCasuarina, Abaco area map

As I wrote before, “In the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact”. If anyone has encountered peacocks elsewhere than in the DoA / Casuarina area, I’d love to hear about it. A photo would be a bonus!

Peacock, %22Different of Abaco%22 4 (Rhonda Pearce)

OPTIONAL FUN FACTS

The collective noun for peafowl is generally considered to be a “pride”, as with lions. But many bird species have been assigned more than one collective noun – and many of the more unusual ones are historic, dating back to medieval times, in particular The Boke of St Albans (1486) by a nun called Dame Juliana Berners, which included lists of collective nouns for ‘companys of beestys and fowlys’. These were known as ‘terms of venery’, and many related to falconry and hunting. She also wrote the presumed first fishing guide, A treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (her catch records do not survive).

Anyway, apart from ‘pride’, peacocks are also collectively known as a ‘muster’; and far more descriptively as an ‘ostentation’.

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: All peafowl Rhonda Pearce; final image π “The Abacos” online

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”


Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”

Driving the Highway south from Marsh Harbour, past the turn-off to Winding Bay and Cherokee, you reach an unassuming side road. This takes you to Casuarina, its gorgeous beach and the canal cut that leads to Cherokee Sound and … bonefish. At the junction you can hardly fail to see the large, time-worn notice for “Different of Abaco“, the former fishing lodge owned by Nettica Symonette. It has been defunct for many years. The lodge buildings are sadly dilapidated and *safety alert* the wooden boards are frail. The grounds are romantically overgrown, and dotted with half-concealed derelict vehicles and machinery rusting away benignly as the seasons pass. The large ponds that must have once been attractive are brackish and uninviting. But guess what! The place is a haven for birds.

Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The most surprising sight is of peafowl – the collective name for peacocks, peahens and peachicks. This flamboyant species was introduced many years ago as a decorative addition to the Lodge and its grounds. It was part of a wider, more ambitious scheme to reintroduce a breeding flock of flamingoes to Abaco. These had regrettably become extirpated from the island and then, as now, were only found as vagrant individuals. The attempt sadly failed and the flamingoes disappeared. Rumours sometimes surface of breeding pairs far out on the Marls or in a secluded place in the far south of the island, but these remain unsubstantiated. The peafowl introduction, however, has proved to be an unexpected success.

Peacock, with bizarre graffiti addressed to Santa ClausFeral Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Peahen in the garden of “Different of Abaco”Peahen, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

Peacocks swaggering in the grounds: note the fully feathered tails (cf photo #2  above)Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 1Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 3

The compilation of “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” involved plenty of decision-making. We obviously couldn’t feature every recorded species – for a start, for many species there were merely reports of sightings but no (or only inadequate) photographs. One interesting factor for consideration was the stage at which an introduced species becomes bird OF Abaco as opposed to a non-indigenous bird that happens to be IN Abaco.

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Rhonda Pearce’s Peafowl Gallery (NB peachicks included!) above demonstrates why this species was an easy choice for inclusion. On the assumption that the original birds were brought to the Lodge in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the chicks you see here must be several generations down the line. A breeding population has been established in the wild, as the grounds of D of A have become. The evidence is that it is spreading slowly – across the road, further into the settlement at Casuarina and recently even further afield.

Celia Rogers photographed this cluster of peahens in Casuarina – but the two males were on the road to Cherokee, maybe 3 or 4 miles distance to the north as the peacock struts

Peahens, Casuarina (Celia Rogers)Peacocks (Cherokee Road)  Abaco (Celia Rogers)

So that’s how the feral peacocks of Abaco come to be classified (in a purely unofficial way) as birds OF Abaco for the purposes of the book**. Once they would have been viewed as pets – like the muscovy ducks that can be found in a few places, Gilpin Point for example. But in the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact.

**That, and the fact that Mrs RH borrowed my camera and undeniably took the best photos of the male and female birds (#1 and #4 above), as seen on pp 70-71 of the book…

Peacock, Abaco (Liann Key Kaighin) 1

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: Mrs RH (1, 4); RH (2, 3); Nina Henry (5, 6); Rhonda Pearce (7 – 11); Celia Rogers (12, 13); Liann Key Kaighin (14); added final image π “The Abacos” online