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Hatchling Cuban Crocodiles at the Zapata breeding sanctuary

Some say the island of Cuba is shaped like a crocodile, an animal with significant political and symbolic weight in the country, and strongly tied to Cuban national identity. The species has the smallest natural distribution of any living crocodilian, being 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, leading them to be classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

 

Hatchling Cuban Crocodiles at the Zapata breeding sanctuary © Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation

Hatchling Cuban Crocodiles at the Zapata breeding sanctuary © Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation

 

Hatchling Cuban Crocodiles at the Zapata breeding sanctuary © Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation

Hatchling Cuban Crocodiles at the Zapata breeding sanctuary © Robin Moore/Global Wildlife Conservation

Believed to be around 3,000 in the wild
Known to hunt collaboratively
Possibly the most intelligent crocodilian

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.

Fortunately, 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.

Solutions

We are working with partners on a comprehensive species recovery strategy to not just protect the Cuban Crocodile but to restore it in areas that it historically called home.

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REINTRODUCING CROCODILES INTO THE WILD

We are working with partners to reintroduce Cuban Crocodiles from captivity into the Wildlife Refuge Channels of Hanabana (WRCH), where Cuban Crocodiles historically occurred. The WRCH encompasses 570 hectares of critical habitat for the crocodiles, with important food sources. Importantly, this area is less suitable for the American Crocodile, with no reports of this species in the area, reducing the threat of hybridization.

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MONITOR REINTRODUCED CROCODILES

Monitor reintroduced crocodiles to evaluate the success of reintroduction efforts and adjust protocols as needed. The team will consider demographic, health and adaptation aspects of released crocodiles, and pilot innovative monitoring techniques including the use of drones and satellite transmitters.

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EDUCATION

Since the rise of tourism in recent years in Cuba, illegal hunting of Cuban Crocodiles has increased significantly to provide meat to restaurants targeting tourists. An educational campaign geared towards locals and tourists will highlight the plight of the crocodile and the importance of protecting and restoring the species. GWC Ambassadors play a key role in raising the profile of the species nationally and internationally.

Get the Details

Species Red List StatusPopulationLocation StatusPartners

~3,000 wild, 5,000 captivity

Zapata and Lanier Swamp, Cuba
  • Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Zapata Breeding Facility