By: Emilio Martinez
Did you know that in addition to having alluring beaches and a captivating culture, Cuba also has a rich biodiversity and is home to thousands of endemic species of flora and fauna? In the Cuban archipelago exists over thirteen thousand animals, many of which can only be found in Cuba. The government takes protection of our endangered species and habitats very seriously. This island is not just a dream destination for vacationers, but for biologist’s as well; they are lured by the unspoiled tropical ecosystems and federally protected biospheres and reserves where plants and animals completely unique to Cuba flourish. Here are just a few of the animals endemic to Cuba that you may be lucky enough to see on your visit.
Cuban Trogon (Tocororo)
The Cuban Trogon (Priotelus temnurus) is the Cuban National Bird. Not only does this bird have the colors of the Cuban National Flag, but also this bird, from the quetzal family, has a particular quality that Cubans identify with: it can’t be in captivity because it will kill itself trying to escape. This characteristic makes it one-of-a-kind and for Cubans a symbol of freedom that makes all of us proud.
Santa Maria Boa
The Santa Maria Boa (Epicrates angulifer) is an impressive Boa Constrictor very similar to those that exist in Africa that can reach the length of 6 meters or more and this is one of the reasons why the African slaves cut the head of the animal once they saw it. This snake is a source of food for peasants who hunt it for nourishment and to collect its oil, used as a home remedy to treat ailments including asthma and hemorrhoids.
The Conga Jutia (Capromis pilorides), also known as Desmarest’s Jutia, is one of the more than 10 types of Jutias that inhabit the Island. This mammal is known as Giant Rat and is actually part of the Tree Rat family species. It is between 20 and 60 cm long and weighs around 6 kg. In addition, this Cuban rodent is one of the most popular pets in the Island and provided sustenance to the rebels while they were fighting in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Recently in response to the food shortage in Cuba, a government official suggested this animal could again be a good meat source.
The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is an endangered species and one of the oldest animals in Cuba. There are around 6 thousand of them and they live only in the Zapata Swamp Biosphere Reserve. This croc reaches 4 meters long and is very aggressive. In my opinion it is the most dangerous animal in the country, fortunately you won’t find it out of the swamp.
Finally, I present to you a typical mollusk from the mountainous regions of Pinar del Rio named Zachrysia Guanensis. This land snail has a shell around 4 cm in diameter with a beautiful brown color, it is one of the largest on the island. It was collected by the approximately 60 communities of Guanahatabeyes Indians that populated Pinar del Rio around five thousand years ago, they were hunter gatherers and fisherman. They would collect the snails, leave them in the sun to dry in order to eliminate potential toxins, and then eat them.