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December 17, 2019

By Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology and Aquatics
Last month, a team of reptile and health specialists from four zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), led by Jamie Palmer, Saint Louis Zoo Institution for Conservation Medicine technician, and Lauren Augustine, Curator of Herpetology at the Saint Louis Zoo, traveled to Matanzas province, Cuba, to conduct health evaluations on Cuban crocodiles at the Zapata Crocodile Farm (ZCF). The ZCF, located on the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, maintains a genetically pure breeding population of critically endangered Cuban crocodiles. The ZCF currently manages roughly 4,000 Cuban crocodiles and raises offspring for reintroduction into protected areas of the Zapata swamp.
The field trip to Zapata was a huge success. The Cuban/American team performed health evaluations on 45 crocodiles in three days! These health evaluations are an important first step in evaluating the long-term sustainability of the ZCF conservation breeding population.
We have collected samples for infectious disease testing and the animals appear in good health at this time. Soon we will have baseline data from which to evaluate the rest of the population from these and animals in North America.
The Saint Louis Zoo, along with the Wildlife Conservation Society and Smithsonian National Zoo, donated some much needed veterinary equipment and supplies to the ZCF, including microscope, vet scan machine and centrifuge. These resources are due in part to funding from the AZA Conservation Grants Fund. The trip was possible because of a multi-institutional partnership, which has allowed us to secure the appropriate permits for imports into Cuba. It also has allowed the team to breed Cuban crocodiles at ZCF, reintroduce animals back into protected habitat and conduct much needed field studies on the wild populations. In addition to Jamie and Lauren, other members of the team traveling on this trip were Kevin Torregrosa and Kelvin Alvarez, Department of Herpetology at Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo; Brian Henley, Department of Herpetology at Cameron Park Zoo; and Karl Guyton, Department of Herpetology at Smithsonian Zoo.
The Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Crocodile Research and Conservation in Cuba Program looks forward to advancing this incredibly important work.