Cuba is teeming with wildlife, and more plant and animal species take refuge on the narrow island than anywhere else in the Caribbean. The wildlife that can be found on Cuba is also known for being benign, as Cuba has no known harmful animals for inhabitants and visitors to watch out for. Even the sharks that take refuge in the reefs off the coast enjoy swimming alongside others. Although Cuba does not have any large predators to boast of, the island is home to some spectacular and unique small creatures that make Cuba an incomparable environment.
You can find a variety of wildlife on Cuba due to its diverse terrain. Cuba is part of the Cuba-Cayman Islands Freshwater ecoregion and is also known as a Caribbean Islands biodiversity hotspot. On the islands, different animals find sanctuary in the island’s different terrestrial ecoregions, which include the Cuban Moist Forests, the Cuban Cactus Scrub, and the Cuban Pine Forests.
Human Impact on Habitats
Although humans first made an appearance in the Caribbean Basin around 4000 years ago, it has only been in the last 500 years that consequential environmental degradation has transpired. The significant environmental changes occurred after the European’s arrival in Hispaniola in 1492, after which significant forest clearing became common with the proliferation of sugar cane plantations.
Human settlers also threatened the Caribbean’s natural biodiversity with the introduction of nonnative species. Before the European’s arrival, indigenous peoples were transporting various species throughout the islands, and the European’s exacerbated this issue. For instance, the small Asian mongoose was introduced in 1872 in an effort to suppress rodents and snakes, but the mongoose ravaged populations of native amphibians and reptiles and brought about the extinction of numerous species.
Similarly, seemingly innocuous animals such as goats, donkeys, monkeys, cats, rats, tilapia and trout threaten Cuba’s biodiversity. These animals, brought over as domestic animals or stowaways on the frequently ported ships throughout colonization, threaten the island’s susceptible ecosystem. While you can see the influence of these animals in the reduced vegetation or heightened soil erosion, you can also notice their significant impact on the native wildlife. For instance, Cuba, along with four other Caribbean islands, has the highest percentage of endangered amphibians in the world.
Like the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba has also experienced the extinction of several bird species due to liberal hunting and trade throughout the early colonial years. The Caribbean has had six species of the brightly-feathered macaws go extinct, including the Cuban macaw (Ara tricolor). The stunning ivory-billed woodpecker, which once could be found throughout Cuba and the southeastern portion of the United States, has not been officially spotted in Cuba since 1987. However, due to some recent reports, there is a budding hope that they persist in the Cuban wildlife preserves; as such, the ivory-billed woodpecker continues to be listed as Critically Endangered instead of being labeled as Extinct. In following, Cuba has made strenuous efforts over the last fifteen years to improve conservation efforts.