Shirtless and waist-deep in the dark waters of Cuba’s palm-speckled Zapata Swamp, researcher Etiam Perez releases a Cuban crocodiles confiscated from illegal hunters back into the wild.

Cuban scientists race to save critically endangered crocodile of which only a few thousand remain

It is a small victory, he says, in a bigger battle. Cuban crocodiles, an endemic species found only here and in a swamp on Cuba’s Isle of Youth, are critically endangered and have the smallest natural habitat left of any living crocodile species, scientists say. “We are trying to bring them back from the edge of extinction,” Mr Perez tells Reuters as the spotted reptile, mouth full of fine teeth, kicks its striped tail and disappears. Illegal hunting and hybridisation with American crocodiles which muddles the species’ genetics have for decades threatened populations here. A warming climate, which alters the sex ratio of newborn crocs also poses a new threat. And despite the Cuban government protecting virtually all of the vast swamp widely considered to be the best preserved in the Caribbean it may still not be enough, scientists say. “When you compare the Cuban crocodile with other species in the world, its house is very small,” says Gustavo Sosa, a Cuban veterinarian at Zapata. Cuban scientists estimate around 4,000 Cuban crocodiles live in the wild.

But because the area they prefer within the wetland is relatively small, a climate-related disaster could wipe out most of the population. Those concerns decades ago prompted the Cuban government to underwrite a hatchery program that annually releases several hundred crocodiles into the wild. Researchers like Mr Perez also liberate crocodiles confiscated from hunters as part of a program that has helped reduce poaching of the species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which listed the species as critically endangered in 2008, says its assessment and population estimates need updating. However it also confirms long-standing concerns over the limited habitat of the species. “With the hatchery we are trying to increase the historical range of the Cuban crocodile and of course increase the number of these individuals in the wild,” Mr Perez says. The sale of crocodile meat in Cuba is tightly controlled by the state, and only those crocodiles with physical defects or hybrid genetics, for example, are allowed in restaurants. An illegal market, however, can still be found in some areas, particularly around the swamp.

Source: This news is originally published by abc

By Web Team

Technology Times Web team handles all matters relevant to website posting and management.