Today’s endangered species comes from the Reptilia class (no relation to the song by The Strokes). It’s in the genus, Crocodylus which includes alligators and caiman. The Cuban crocodile has a very small distribution. Over time it’s been limited to two small swamps of Cuba; the Zapata Swamp and the Lanier Swamp on the Isla de Juventad (Isle of Youth). Both of these swamps are freshwater swamps. The Cuban crocodile goes by “Crocodile De Cuba” in French and “Cocodrilo De Cuba” in Spanish.
These crocodiles are medium sized in comparison to the native American crocodile. They average at about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) long and weigh about 287 pounds (130 kilograms). Although they live in freshwater swamps, they are very much terrestrial creatures. Their feet do not have webbing which is indication of how much time they spend on land versus water and they have short, broad heads with bony ridges running between their eyes. They also have what’s known as “pearly” pattern on their back which are black and yellow spots and distinguish them from other crocodiles.
(As scary as he may look, how can anyone deny the existence of dinosaurs?!)
Diet of the Cuban crocodile mainly consists of hutias (resembles a cross between a beaver and a rat) and freshwater turtles. They have very broad back teeth that are strong enough crush turtle shells. Cuban crocodiles have also been historically known to prey on the giant sloth (remember last week’s post? Sadly, the giant sloth is extinct). Breeding season for the Cuban crocodile starts around May and June. Females will either dig a hole for their nest or build a mound nest for their eggs. Eggs size is around 20-40 in the wild.
The Cuban crocodile is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red list with less than 4,000 individuals left. The major threats to this reptiles include illegal hunting, habitat loss and hybridization. Hunters poach the Cuban crocodile to sale their meat to private restaurants who participate in the tourist industry. Habitat destruction is self explanatory given their restrictions to two tiny swamps. Hybridization refers to the Cuban crocodile mating with it’s American cousin, muddying the Cuban crocodile gene pool and lowering genetic diversity overall.
Conversation of this species is pretty much at a standstill. In 2008, when the species was listed as critical, a few conservation measures were put in place such as captive breeding programs and reintroduction but illegal hunting still continues as well as hybridization. Hopefully, some new monitoring legislation can be put into place that ultimately saves this beastie from extinction.