Cuba’s wild landscapes have remained virtually untouched, creating a safe haven for rare and intriguing indigenous animals, as well as for hundreds of species of migrating birds and marine creatures. Coral reefs have benefited, too. Independent research has shown that Cuba’s corals are doing much better than others both in the Caribbean and around the world.
Scientific research in Cuba on creatures such as the notoriously aggressive “jumping” crocodile, and the famous painted snails, paired with long-term ecological efforts on behalf of sea turtles, has been conducted primarily by devoted local experts. Conservation and research in Cuba can be a constant struggle for scientists who earn little for their work. But their work is their passion, and no less important than that of those collecting larger salaries. NATURE follows these scientists as they explore the crocodile population of Zapata swamp, the birth of baby sea turtles, and the mysteries of evolution demonstrated by creatures that travel no more than 60 yards in a lifetime.
As the possibility of an end to the U.S. trade embargo looms, Cuba’s wildlife hangs in the balance. Most experts predict that the end of the embargo could have devastating results. Tourism could double, and the economic development associated with tourism and other industries could change the face of what was once a nearly pristine ecosystem. Or Cuba could set an example for development and conservation around the world, defining a new era of sustainability well beyond Cuba’s borders.
Some of the animals
CUBAN TODY (Todus multicolor)
Todies defend a tiny patch of forest, rarely leaving their wooded and semiwooded territories. They are endemic to Cuba and are known on the island as “cartacuba.” Female todies lay 3 to 4 eggs between the months of March and June. Parents feed their chicks up to 140 insects per day — making these young birds among the most frequently fed chicks in the world. Todies snatch caterpillars, spiders, and other kinds of insects off leaves. There are only five species of tody in the world, and all of them are found on Caribbean islands. The Cuban tody is the most colorful, with a blue throat, pink flanks, a yellow underbelly, and a green body. These birds dig tunnels in embankments or in hollow tree trunks for nests. The tunnel’s walls are covered with a sealant — a mixture of grass, lichen, algae, and feathers.
Looking for love? BEE HUMMINGBIRD (Mellisuga helenae)
Believed to be the world’s smallest bird, Cuba’s native bee hummingbird buzzes around forests and field edges in many parts of the island, where it feeds on flower nectar. It grows to about 2 inches long and weighs less than an ounce, or less than a dime. Some locals call it “zunzun,” and believe it is a symbol of love. Birders from all over the world travel to Cuba in hopes of catching a glimpse of this tiny bird.
CUBAN CROCODILE (Crocodylus rhombifer)
Once also found on other islands in the Caribbean, this rare crocodile is now limited to Cuba, where it lives in dense swamps. It can grow up to 13 feet long, and typically feeds on fish and crustaceans. It can also “leap” high out the water, with a push from its powerful tail, to grab hutia from their treetop perches. Biologists believe that fewer than 6,000 wild Cuban crocodiles remain, although others are raised on farms for their meat and hides.
Cuba: The Accidental Eden premieres Sunday, September 26, 2010 on PBS
Excerpts courtesy of http://to.pbs.org/bZUL9f
Excerpts and Images 2 & 4 courtesy of http://to.pbs.org/aqCSuk/wildlife-guide/1245
Image courtesy of Nature’s Crusader’s library
Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/cb2DYx
Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/a9WI1k