HAVANA (AP) — Ten young female crocodiles born in Sweden are to be released in their parents’ former swampy home in Cuba after being returned to the Caribbean island.
The Skansen Zoo in Stockholm sent the reptiles to Cuba’s National Zoo in April to help encourage reproduction of the protected species native to the island. Hiram Fernandez, a veterinarian at the Cuban zoo, says the ‘Swedish Crocs‘ will be released soon in Zapata Swamp, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of the capital. Their ranks have been thinned by hunting and diminishing habitat, with few examples of Crocodylus rhombifer still found in Zapata Swamp and Cuba’s Isle of Youth.
Fidel Castro in the 1980s gave the crocodiles’ parents, named Castro and Hilly, to Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov, who initially took them to Moscow.
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.
A Stockholm zoo on Sunday is sending 10 of the couple’s children 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 10 crocodiles each are about 1 1/2 years old and a meter (yard) long.
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.
Cuba’s representative to Sweden welcomed the move.
Full story at: greenatom.net
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