Back in the 1970’s, Cuba’s Dictator, Fidel Castro, sent a unique gift to the Russian astronaut, Vladimir Shatalov, as a token of friendship and appreciation. What was that special gift? Simply two Cuban Crocodiles named Hillary and Castro, born in 1974.
However, Shatalov’s wife didn’t really like the idea of sharing a small apartment with two frightening Cuban crocodiles, which can grow up to 11 feet (3.5 m). Shatalov logically couldn’t keep the “pets”, so he gave them to the zoo in Moscow. Surprisingly, even the Moscow zoo didn’t possess the necessary infrastructure to keep and maintain the Cuban Crocodile pair, so in 1981 Hillary and Castro were transferred to Stockholm’s Skansen zoo. They’ve been living there ever since. But who are these Cuban Crocodiles? Take a look…
Cuban Crocodile Facts
The Cuban crocodile (known as Crocodylus rhombifer) is a rather small but extremely aggressive crocodile that is found only in Cuba, and specifically – in Cuba’s Zapata Swamp and the Isle of youth. The Cuban Crocodile has some unique characteristics, like his bright colors, the rougher scales and his strong long legs. It prefers freshwater habitat like rivers, marshes and of course swamps, and will rarely be seen in saltwater. The Cuban Crocodile mates its entire life and lives deep into its 80’s.
Another unique characteristic of the Cuban Crocodile, is it’s suspected tendency for pack-hunting behavior. No other crocodilians display pack-hunting behavior, making the Cuban crocodile a very interesting species for reptile researchers from all over the world. The Cuban species is also regarded as one of the most intelligent crocodiles on the planet. Sadly, it is also a very endangered species, mainly due to loss of habitat, deterioration of its ecosystem, hunting and also due to breeding with other species. Experts believe there are only around 100 cuban crocodiles left in the world, but recently something great has happened, which might change the entire situation.
Approximately 20 months ago, Hillary and Castro, the two Cuban Crocodiles gifted by Castro to Vladimir Shatalov, have given birth to 10 healthy hatchlings, which are still too young to even determine their sexes. In sort of a homecoming, these beautiful crocodile hatchlings have been returned back to their old homeland – the marshy swamps of Castro’s communist Cuba. They will actually be kept in quarantine in Havana for several months, then transferred to a semi-captive habitat, until they are over three years old and ready to be released into the wild swamps.
Watch this News Clip about the return of the Cuban Crocodiles:
This extraordinary return back to Cuba is an extremely important step towards saving the Cuban Crocodile from extinction. Let’s hope this unique mission succeeds.