Critically Endangered Cuban Crocodile Hatchlings Released Into Wild

A young Cuban Crocodile at the Zapata Swamp breeding sanctuary shortly before the release into the wild.

By GWC - 21. November 2019

Global Wildlife Conservation recently joined Wildlife Conservation Society and staff at the Zapata Swamp Cuban Crocodile Breeding Sanctuary on November 14 to release into the wild 10 young Cuban crocodiles, one of the world’s most endangered crocodilian species.

Cuban crocodiles have nearly vanished from their wild home primarily as the result of illegal hunting, and hybridization with American crocodiles that have been pushed into Cuban crocodile habitat by illegal release of pet-crocodiles smuggled onto the island from the USA.

“The release not only marks a symbolic milestone toward bringing the species back from the brink of extinction, but it is also an important step in educating and shifting perceptions of a vital top predator that is often misunderstood,” said Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation senior director and added: “I hope these images will invite people to consider these incredible, fascinating and beautiful animals in a new light and to contemplate the responsibility we share as their future rests in our hands.”

“We are working to bring Cuban crocodiles back from the brink of extinction because they play
a critical role in keeping coastal mangroves healthy. As top predators, they are not only critical
for keeping the food chain in check, but they are true ecosystem engineers that shape and
maintain mangrove forests through excavating massive underwater caves and canals, which
create water dynamics and essential micro-habitats that support a rich diversity of species. The
fate of Cuba’s extensive mangrove systems are strongly connected to the survival of its
crocodiles.”
- Natalia Rossi, Cuba country manager, Wildlife Conservation Society

“Cuban crocodiles are so misunderstood, and it’s so important to be educated and to educate
the people around us. If we’re not actively involved in educating and protecting them, they
could be gone forever, and that would just be devastating. We are also devoting ourselves to saving Cuban crocodiles because of their historical and cultural value, their incredible behavior and, most importantly, because the Zapata ecosystem would never be the same without them."
- said statements by GWC members. Picture: Cenit Nadir holds one hatchling during the release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background

  • Cuban crocodiles are a critically endangered species found only in Cuba’s Zapata and Lanier Swamps. They have the smallest, most restricted geographic range of any crocodilian species, limited to 77,600 hectares in the Southwestern tip of the Zapata Peninsula.
  • Indiscriminate hunting for crocodile skins in the second half of the 19th century decimated most of the Cuban crocodile populations, leaving between 3,000 and 5,000 animals in the wild—an 80 percent decline in their historic numbers. The animals are no longer found in most of their historic range.
  • Today the biggest threats to the species are habitat destruction, illicit hunting for crocodile meat and hybridization with American crocodiles that have been pushed into Cuban crocodile territory by human changes to the landscape.
  • The late Cuban leader Fidel Castro established the Zapata Swamp Cuban Crocodile Breeding Sanctuary in 1959 to aid Cuban crocodile conservation efforts. The sanctuary is currently home to nearly 5,000 Cuban crocodiles, including neonates, juveniles, sub-adults and adults. This population is the most important captive reservoir of Cuban crocodiles in the world.
  • The release on Nov. 14 was the third release of Cuban crocodiles back into the wild. The first was in 2016 with nearly 100 crocodiles, and the second was in 2017 with 10 crocodiles. This year the team released 10 recent hatchlings and older crocodiles into a wildlife refuge in Zapata Swamp where there are no American crocodiles, lots of aquatic vegetation to hide the animals, and a monitoring program aimed at preventing hunting.
  • The project’s long-term goal is to monitor reintroduced Cuban crocodiles at the refuge to determine how they adjust to their new environment, to watch for new threats and environmental changes, and to track the animals’ health and distribution.
  • Cuban crocodiles are an important cultural icon in Cuba.
  • The animals can grow up to 12 feet in length.
Gustavo Sosa, a local crocodile expert, guides Global Wildlife Ambassador Abril Schreiber as she releases a Cuban crocodile into the wild.

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Photos by Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation (see more)

Global Wildlife Conservation
GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

Contact
Lindsay Renick Mayer
Global Wildlife Conservation
lrenickmayer@globalwildlife.org
202-422-4671