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Dangerous attraction: Amorous pursuit imperils Cuban croc

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Cienaga de Zapata (Cuba) (AFP)

Being too coveted a mating companion can have its draw back for a species confronted with extinction, because the Cuban crocodile has realized.

Arduous pursuit by its amorous American counterpart has seen survival of the island species, its numbers already dwindling, additional threatened by hybridization.

Based on the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Cuban crocodile inhabitants has declined greater than 80 p.c over three generations.

Recognized to scientists as Crocodylus rhombifer, the black-and-yellow freshwater reptile is listed as a “critically endangered” species.

Hybridization is without doubt one of the important threats to its survival, in response to the IUCN, together with trying to find meat — largely for vacationer restaurant menus.

At this time, the scaly predator’s island-wide vary has been largely restricted to the Zapata Swamp some 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Havana.

However it’s not alone.

The American Crocodylus acutus, a fresh- and saltwater specimen, can also be discovered right here, and appears to benefit from the firm of its Cuban counterpart — maybe just a little an excessive amount of.

Already on the Zapata pure reserve, one in two crocs is a hybrid, conservationists say.

– Pure or not? –

However gene mixing might not essentially be a foul factor.

“One has to do not forget that hybridization additionally performs a task in evolution, within the look of recent species,” mentioned Etiam Perez-Fleitas, an unique species professional on the Zapata reserve.

The query for scientists now could be whether or not this explicit mixing of the gene pool is sweet or unhealthy.

If the phenomenon is the results of human-induced stresses, it needs to be stopped, defined Perez-Fleitas. However whether it is pure, it is perhaps finest to depart nicely alone.

As generally occurs naturally, hybridization may lead to a extra resistant species, combining the aggression of the smaller Cuban crocodile and the adaptability of its extra timid American cousin.

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The American crocodile, listed as “weak” by the IUCN, is native to nations of northern South America, the Caribbean, central America and the tip of Florida.

“Our analysis is targeted on discovering out whether or not that is pure hybridization,” mentioned Perez-Fleitas.

Within the meantime, a 2008 genetic research has allowed scientists to differentiate Cuban crocs from hybrids, and to exclude the latter from captive breeding applications.

– No different prefer it –

On the Zapata reserve, some 500 to 1,000 child Cuban crocs are born into semi-captivity yearly, of which a couple of hundred are launched into the wild.

AFP visited the mission on a day when staff had been gathering eggs from croc nests to be positioned in an incubator — which vastly improves their probabilities of hatching.

It’s a dangerous enterprise, and 5 males with massive sticks surrounded the nest mound as one other dug for eggs, able to repel a sudden toothy assault from the water or the tall grass close by.

Every feminine lays about 20 to 40 eggs, which spend some 80 to 85 days incubating.

Zapata reserve worker Jorge Luis Monero, 56, holds a younger specimen measuring about half a meter in his arms, and insists its profile is paying homage to the distinct elongated form of the island of Cuba.

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“Within the Americas, there is no such thing as a different crocodile just like the Cuban,” he mentioned.

However despite the animal’s uniqueness, Perez-Fleitas mentioned preserving a pure breed is just not essentially the most suitable choice, and cautioned in opposition to deciding too swiftly on the best way ahead.

When coping with a creature that may stay as much as 70 years in captivity, it’s higher to have “very long-term plans,” the specialist mentioned.

“Perhaps in 100 years, it will likely be the hybrids that want defending,” he added.


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