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Cuban crocodile
Wildlife Conservation Society/André Baumgarten
This is one of the 10 Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) released into Cuba’s Zapata Swamp.

Pure Cuban crocs back in their ancestral home

By the  Wildlife Conservation Society news staff

Experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society  and the Bronx Zoo in New York assisted Cuban conservationists in the release of 10 Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) into Cuba's Zapata Swamp as part of a recovery strategy for this critically endangered species.

These genetically pure crocodiles came from a breeding facility near the Zapata swamp. Hybridization with American crocodiles, which occur in the southwestern tip of the Zapata Peninsula, has contributed to the Cuban crocodile's continuing decline. Cuban crocodiles face other threats, such as an increase in illegal hunting, so the release of captive-bred Cuban crocodiles and the protection of these reptiles from poaching and hybridization is critical to the survival of the species in the wild.

The crocodiles were released in the Refugio de Fauna Canales de Hanábana, a 570 hectare (1,400 acre) mosaic of water channels, lagoons, marsh grasslands, and swamp forests in the easternmost Zapata Peninsula where Cuban crocodiles historically occurred. Marsh grasslands in this refuge provide crucial habitat for not only Cuban crocodiles, but prey including bird, fish and mammal species. No American crocodiles or hybrids are found in this wildlife refuge.

The release took place June 8. It is the second reintroduction in 2016. The decision to release the crocodiles followed a workshop of crocodile experts organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Cuban institutions, including the Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jiménez, CITMA Ciénaga de Zapata, and Empresa Nacional para la Protección de la Flora y la Fauna. The workshop brought together 40 Cuban nationals working for the conservation of crocodiles in Cuba, and 30 international experts.

The workshop resulted in a series of priorities for improving the conservation of crocodiles, including: strengthening the research and monitoring of Cuban crocodiles in the wild, increasing efforts to reintroduce and monitor reintroduced animals in Channels of Hanabana, working with local communities to reduce poaching through alternative livelihoods and environmental education and working with local authorities to strengthen compliance to reduce illegal selling of crocodile meat.

"This workshop was important because it enabled the second release of Cuban crocodiles into the wild and motivated all participants to do even more to save this critically endangered species,” said said Natalia Rossi, the society’s Cuba program manager. “Our workshop was fundamental to bring everyone together to share the work being done to save the Cuban crocodile."

The critically endangered Cuban crocodile has the smallest, most restricted geographic distribution among all living crocodilian species, being only found in parts of the Zapata and Lanier swamps. Historically it was found throughout the Zapata Peninsula, but indiscriminate hunting for skins beginning in the second half of the 19th century and lasting until the early 1960s decimated most populations. Today, Cuban crocodiles inhabit a territory of about 77,600 hectares (191,700 acres), sharing habitat with the American crocodile and the hybrids of both species.

The society’s John Thorbjarnarson began working on Cuban crocodiles in the 1990s, and the Bronx Zoo was the first U.S. zoo to successfully breed Cuban crocodiles. The first one hatched in 1983. Six more hatched in 1984, and 21 in 1985. There has been no reproduction since then, but the zoo has a new young pair of crocodiles that will be introduced to each other late this year.
—July 16, 2017

U.S. top diplomat in Cuba, DeLaurentis, leaves post

By the A.M. Cuba news staff

The top U.S. official on the ground in Cuba has left that position, and the U.S. State Department said that his deputy will serve as temporary chargé d’affaires.

The changing of the guard gives President Donald Trump an opening to name a new leader for the U.S. Embassy there.

The person who left is Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who was the top U.S. diplomat there for three years. He severed as chargé d’affaires from August 2014 and was the top diplomat when former president Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations in July 2015. Obama named  DeLaurentis to be ambassador to Cuba, but he was not confirmed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate

The new chargé is Scott Hamilton, who joined the embassy staff as second in command in  July 2015. An official announcement by the embassy said that Hamilton would hold the post ad interim, meaning until someone else is picked.

Trump has reversed the Obama approach to Cuba, and a clear outline of policy still is awaited.

The embassy said in an announcement that Hamilton, who was born in Scotland, has been director of Central American affairs at the State Department and an advisor to the U.S. delegation at the  Organization of American States.

Hamilton holds degrees from Harvard Law School and from Oxford University in England. He practiced law in Chicago from 1989 to 1992, it added.

—July 11, 2017

Cuban Habanos still smoking hot

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

Cuba's legendary cigar is still as popular as ever with sales last year rising 5 percent to a staggering $445 million.

Leigh Powless via Wikimedia Commons
A Cuban woman enjoys a hand-rolled cigar outside the Plaza de Armas in Havana

Now Habanos lovers are stoked over the 19th annual Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba, which runs through Friday. Cuba's monopoly cigar company, Grupo Habanos Company, markets 27 handmade Habanos brands including the classics
Cohiba, Monte Cristo and Romeo y Julieta. The highlight of the festival is the introduction of new cigar vitolas (lengths) and band markings -- a big deal for cigar aficionados.

Habanos dominates the global market for hand-rolled, premium cigars except in the United States due to Washington's half-century trade embargo against Cuba. This hasn't stopped the illegal trade, where Habanos have been making a showing in the U.S. for years.

In the past year, U.S. tourists to Cuba have been permitted to legally bring back a certain number of Habanos, courtesy of the Obama administration's attempt to normalize relations with Cuba.
— Feb. 28, 2017

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