Exciting New Prospects for Crocodile Conservation in Cuba

By Natalia Rossi

Since 1999, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), where I serve as a program fellow and herpetologist, has worked in Cuba to protect both American and Cuban crocodiles. With air boats unavailable in the isolated island nation, our research frequently has us walking for hours through dark muddy swamps of coastal mangroves, opening paths using machetes, and navigating internal lakes and rivers with small canoes looking for juvenile and adult crocodiles.

President Obama’s decision to normalize U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba has focused attention on a possible end to the two nations’ long political estrangement. Yet despite the enduring diplomatic impasse, for years many of us in the U.S. conservation community have worked hand in hand with our counterparts in Cuba (with the permission of both governments) to preserve that nation’s globally important biodiversity.

A restoration of diplomatic relations now holds out the promise of building upon this important conservation foundation. As the largest archipelago in the Caribbean, Cuba has by far the most area protected for wildlife, the most diverse habitats, and the highest number of endemic wildlife species in the region. Best conserved are the montane forest in the East and the coastal wetlands, offshore keys, and coral reefs along the country’s coasts.

The coastal wetlands are where Cuba’s two crocodile species – the American (Crocodylus acutus) and Cuban (Crocodylus rhombifer) – are found. Each year during June and July, hundreds hatch in nesting beaches along the Wildlife Refuge Monte Cabaniguán (WRMC) in southeastern Cuba. Both crocodile species interbreed in the wild and are of conservation concern. While American crocodiles are distributed widely, Cuban crocodiles occur only on the southwest coast of Cuba in the Zapata Swamp and the Lanier Swamp on the Island of Youth.

As noted above, conducting research on these animals can be demanding. When crocs are —> Read More