Why Cuban Crocs are critical
Some say the island of Cuba is shaped like a crocodile, an animal with significant political and symbolic weight in the country, and strong ties to Cuban national identity. The species has the smallest natural distribution of any living crocodilian. It is found only in parts of Cuba’s Zapata and Lanier Swamps. Zapata Swamp is the largest coastal wetland in the insular Caribbean, with vast swathes of mangrove forests that contribute significantly to mitigating and providing resilience to the effects of climate change. Cuban Crocodiles, as top predators and ecosystem engineers, play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of this important ecosystem. Today only around 3,000 Cuban Crocodiles remain in the wild and they are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Restoring the wild
The Cuban Crocodile has been driven to historically low numbers in the wild by indiscriminate hunting for skins. Added to this is the threat of hybridization with American Crocodiles. Although hybridization between the two species has occurred for thousands of years, the small population size and habitat restrictions of the Cuban Crocodile make it a real and present threat to the survival of this as a distinct and unique species.
In 1959 Cuba funded a captive breeding facility in Zapata Swamp that today is home to close to 5,000 Cuban Crocodiles – the most important captive reservoir of Cuban Crocodiles in the world. Since its creation, the Zapata captive breeding facility has enabled key research into the species.
We are working with partners on the ground at the Zapata Breeding Facility and the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect and restore this unique crocodile.
The Re:wild Solution
We are working with partners on a comprehensive species recovery strategy to protect the Cuban Crocodile and bring it back to areas that it historically called home. Specifically:
Reintroduce crocodiles to the wild
We release genetically pure Cuban Crocodiles from the Zapata captive breeding facility into water channels, lagoons, marsh grasslands and swamp forests in the easternmost Zapata Peninsula where the crocodiles historically lived.
Deploy cutting-edge science and technology
We plan to carry out a series of field expeditions into the Southwestern tip of the Zapata Peninsula and the Lanier Swamp to count individual Cuban Crocodiles, locate nests, and deploy satellite transmitters to investigate the crocodile’s movements in the swamp.
We plan to deploy compliance tools (SMART) to protect Cuban Crocodiles from poaching, and launch an environmental education campaign to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the crocodiles among rural communities of the Zapata Peninsula and more broadly among residents of Havana.
Top photo: Two young Cuban Crocodiles in the water at the breeding sanctuary in Zapata Swamp. (Photo by Robin Moore, Re:wild)