“They’re the rarest, and I must say, the most beautiful crocodile species in the world,” Jonas Wahlström, the director of the aquarium at the Skansen Zoo in Stockholm, told The Local.
Skansen is the only zoo in the world that breeds the crocodiles, and only a few hundred are known to exist in the wild in Cuba, according to Wahlström.
However, the road from Cuba to Stockholm was no ordinary trip for the reptile pair.
“The mother and the father, who we call Castro and Hilary, were given as gifts by Fidel Castro in 1977 to a Russian cosmonaut. It was a gesture of goodwill, but soon the crocodiles grew too big for the cosmonaut’s apartment,” Wahlström explained.
“And I don’t think his wife wanted crocodiles in the bathtub anymore.”
Soon, the pair of metre-long reptiles was given to the Moscow zoo, an establishment that Wahlström frequented often in the 1980s.
“The zoo was remodeling one year when I was there, and I was given the crocodiles to take back to Stockholm.”
“I carried them in my hand luggage, but this was no problem at the time, as it was the Soviet Union and a few coloured postcards and pens could get you anything.”
Back in Stockholm, the zoo began to breed the crocodiles yearly, exporting the offspring to other wildlife parks around the world.
“US zoos are especially keen on having the crocs, but it’s funny, we can’t send their parents over there because of the trade embargo – they were made in Cuba.”
“Communist crocs are unwelcome over there, but our Swedish-born conservative crocs have been sent to the US many times,” Wahlström said with a laugh.
Animal enthusiasts who are eager to see the litter for themselves can visit the nursery where the crocodiles will be on display for the next six months, before they are all shipped off to zoos around the world.
The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is an endangered species that typically grows to around three metres. They are only known to exist in the wild in Cuba’s Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth.