Throughout Cuba, the Cuban Crocodile can be found, but it’s not something you get to see all too often, as only a few thousand are thought to remain in the wild in the region.
Image Credit: Desmond Boylan for Nature
Despite conservation efforts for the last several decades by the Cuban government, the Cuban Crocodile is in trouble, and now nature itself is proving to be an enemy of the species.
The Cuban Crocodile is reportedly interbreeding with the more resilient American Crocodile, and as a result, this is creating a genetic impurity in the species. Revealed in a recent genetic analysis from tissue sent to Canada and United States-based labs, this is tarnishing decades of conservation efforts.
More than half of the 227 wild Cuban Crocodiles tested were reportedly interbred, while comparatively, only 16% of the Cuban Crocodiles raised in captivity showed signs of interbreeding; a significantly lower number.
It wasn’t known they were interbreeding at this rate before this genetic analysis, as Cuba has been identifying the species by head shape rather than with modern DNA sampling due to the lack of modern technology in the region.
With this new data revealed, it’s now becoming a struggle between whether conservationists should continue trying to protect the species’ purity or to let nature take its course and allow the animals to interbreed with one another as they will to do.
There are pros and cons to each side of the story. For one, it would be beneficial to the region to save the genetic identity of the Cuban Crocodile because it’s somewhat of a symbol to the country.
On the other hand, letting nature take its course could help the Cuban Crocodile to survive, because the more resilient American Crocodile can tolerate salt water, which is important for a small country like Cuba, which is surrounded by ocean water on all sides.
Further hindering he success story of the Cuban Crocodile are Cuba’s own citizens, who continue to hunt the animal despite the steep fines imposed for doing so. Poverty in the region also affects what scientists can and can’t do to preserve the species, so it’s a really difficult problem to tackle.