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Cuban crocodile in it's habitat

Philadelphia Zoo Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians Represents AZA at Crocodile Specialist Meeting

The meeting, held in Darwin, Australia, hosts a worldwide network of crocodilian experts to share the latest on the conservation and state of the 26 recognized crocodilian species.

Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians Lauren Augustine has been a leader in herpetology research for more than 15 years. She has been traveling around the world for more than a decade to protect her favorite animals. She has been to West Africa to survey crocodiles, to Vietnam to aid researchers in best practices for breeding endangered turtles, and most recently Guatemala to begin preliminary research on mud and musk turtle populations, working to fill in an important gap in data. She is also now the Program Leader for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for the Cuban crocodile.

At the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission Crocodile Specialist Group meeting in Darwin, Australia, Augustine represented the AZA’s recommitment to supporting conservation efforts for the critically endangered Cuban crocodile — one of the most endangered vertebrates on Earth. This species once ranged throughout Cuba and other Caribbean Islands, but can now only be found on the Zapata Peninsula in Cuba. Research suggests there are fewer than 2400 mature animals left in the wild. Threats to this species include rampant hybridization with the American crocodile, hunting and habitat loss.

“The Cuban crocodile is a species in dire need of help,” says Augustine. “It’s such a unique animal and is vital as an apex predator in its habitat. I have visited and worked with team at the Zapata Crocodile Farm to support their goals since my first visit in 2016.  I am thrilled to lead the SAFE program and continue this important work.”

At the meeting, Augustine discussed the SAFE three-year plan, which developed a roadmap for a collaborative approach from participating institutions to support the conservation of this imperiled species and its habitat. The dedicated Cuban biologists that have been working toward these goals are the critical partners in this plan, and all of the goals and objectives align with the IUCN recovery actions recently updated on the red list for this species in 2022.

Some other highlights of the group meeting included networking with colleagues from different countries and seeing how research on Cuban crocodiles has contributed to other projects around the world.



About the Cuban Crocodile

Once ranging throughout Cuba and other Caribbean Islands, the Cuban crocodile can now only be found on the Zapata Peninsula in southern Cuba and are considered to be one of the most endangered crocodilian species. Adult Cuban crocodiles can grow to be 10.5 feet long and 180 pounds with males growing larger than females. While not the largest crocodilian, they are behaviorally and morphologically distinct, being quite terrestrial, adept to hunting their prey on land as well as in the water. They are green with black speckles and darker coloration toward the top of their bodies. Juveniles tend to eat small fish and invertebrates while adults eat fish, turtles and small mammals. Breeding season typically begins in May and lasts through September with females laying up to 40 eggs.