APR 19, 2015 12:34 PM PDT

Sweden to Assist Cuba in Preserving Crocodile Species

Cuba's efforts to sustain the critically endangered Cuban crocodile are getting a boost from Sweden, home to a pair of reptiles that Fidel Castro gave to a Soviet cosmonaut four decades ago.
Two adult Cuban Crocodiles at the Skansen Zoo and Aquarium in Stockholm
A Stockholm zoo on Sunday is sending 10 of the couple's babies to Cuba, where they will be placed in quarantine and eventually released into the Zapata Swamp, said Jonas Wahlstrom, the zookeeper who raised them.

"It's the dream of any zoo director to be part of releasing animals into the wild," said Wahlstrom, 62, clutching one of the stout- legged youngsters outside its enclosure at the Skansen aquarium and zoo in Stockholm.

The Cuban crocodile, once found across the Caribbean, is restricted today to two swamps in Cuba, where it is threatened by interbreeding with American crocodiles, habitat loss and illegal hunting. Wahlstrom said he received his original couple during a 1981 trip to Moscow. They had ended up in the Soviet capital after Castro gave them to cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov in the 1970s as a token of friendship between the communist nations.

"He (Shatalov) brought them back to Moscow and he had them in his flat until his wife said: ‘No more!' And then he had to give them to the zoo in Moscow," Wahlstrom told the Associated Press.

But the zoo officials didn't have a good space for the aquatic reptiles so they asked Wahlstrom if he could take them to Sweden.

"I had them as my hand luggage back from Moscow," Wahlstrom said.

Zoo officials in Moscow confirmed the background of the crocodiles and their handover to Wahlstrom. Later named Hillary and Castro - in a nod to international politics - the two crocodiles have become a star attraction at Wahlstrom's zoo, where they have been breeding since 1984.

Wahlstrom said he's sent hatchlings to zoos worldwide, but this is the first time he's given any to Cuba for introduction into the wild.
With only about 4,000 animals remaining in the wild, the Cuban crocodile, or Crocodylus rhombifer, is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population is restricted to Cuba's Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth.

This would be the first time that Cuban crocodiles raised abroad are introduced into the wild in Cuba, according to Natalia Rossi of the Wildlife Conservation Society. She's been involved in other efforts to protect crocodiles in the Caribbean island nation but not the Swedish project.

However, the crocodiles first would be genetically screened to ensure that they come from a pure breed, Rossi said.

The Cuban crocodile can be distinguished from its American cousin by the way it walks and its characteristic bony ridge behind the eyes. But you cannot distinguish hybrid crocodiles from pure-bred Cuban crocodiles by their appearance, she said. Wahlstrom said he was sure his crocodiles were pure Cubans and expected them to adapt quickly to the real world.

"A crocodile is always ready for the wild," Wahlstrom said. "They are always aggressive."

As if to emphasize his point, the baby croc he was holding briefly writhed out of his grip and snapped at an AP journalist's jacket.

(Source: AP/Stockholm)
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
NOV 17, 2020
Plants & Animals
Taking a Virtual Walk in a Forest Altered by Climate Change
NOV 17, 2020
Taking a Virtual Walk in a Forest Altered by Climate Change
For some people, it's easier to grasp the magnitude of a problem once it can be visualized.
DEC 22, 2020
Plants & Animals
Australia's Ancient Swamp King
DEC 22, 2020
Australia's Ancient Swamp King
Just a few million years ago, a prehistoric crocodile that was more than 16 feet long was the king of swamps in southwes ...
DEC 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Do Spiders Behave in Zero Gravity?
DEC 29, 2020
How Do Spiders Behave in Zero Gravity?
The International Space Station (ISS) is a treasure trove of scientific intrigue. But it's not just life-saving drug ...
JAN 12, 2021
Technology
Artificial Intelligence Identifies Superspeed Insects
JAN 12, 2021
Artificial Intelligence Identifies Superspeed Insects
Artificial Intelligence (AI) are now being used by researchers to help identify insects with supernatural speed. Such te ...
FEB 11, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
We Have More in Common With Our Fish Ancestors Than We Knew
FEB 11, 2021
We Have More in Common With Our Fish Ancestors Than We Knew
Long ago, aquatic animals adapted to live on land, and this initial group of land-dwelling vertebrates are known as tetr ...
MAR 07, 2021
Plants & Animals
What's Terroir and Does Whiskey Have It?
MAR 07, 2021
What's Terroir and Does Whiskey Have It?
Terroir is a term usually associated with wine; it describes the environmental characteristics like climate and soil tha ...
Loading Comments...