Have you ever Googled something and landed on the Wikipedia page, only to wonder just how accurate the info truly is? I know I have, and during this morning's searches for Cuba info, something popped up that made me seriously doubt the validity of this online "encyclopedia." Running a little lean on subject matter this week, I told my boss I was having a hard time coming up with a subject, but that I was leaning toward a story about Cuban crocodiles. Well, moments later, right there on Wikipedia, I read about another person who had "leaned toward" crocodiles last August, but we'll get back to that in a "bit," so to speak.
My initial search brought up photos from a recent visit to a crocodile farm near Playa Larga at the Bay of Pigs. Actually, there are two facilities, one for show and one for real. Roughly 99% of all tourists choose the Disneyesque farm on the east side of the road. This one has an expansive pond and shoreline teaming with huge crocodiles that lay motionless until someone pays the “meat guy” to dangle a chunk of God-knows-what over the fence. Suddenly, you realize they're most definitely alive. This compound is obviously tourist-centric and comes complete with a restaurant, at least five gift shops, a live band and more than one opportunity to hold a baby croc. But on the other side of the street is the actual research farm where just under 5,000 Cuban crocodiles, in all stages of life, are bred and studied. Some are destined for release into the wild, while others end up shaped into creepy purses or boots, their mojo-marinated tails on dinner plates with two sides and a cerveza.
Crocodile research and conservation in Cuba was started in the early 1960s as an attempt to save the endemic species from extinction due to habitat encroachment and poaching, and it worked.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Omar, a friendly Cuban gentleman in his mid-50s who was obviously pleased to see this group of nine, genuinely interested gringos. Thankfully, most tourists flock to the souvenir stands on the other side of the street, so we had the place, and Omar, to ourselves.
The tour begins with the toy-like hatchlings that measure about 6 inches in length and are reminiscent of scenes from "Jurassic Park." While cute, even the babies show off their toothy grins and have a look in their eyes that says, "don't even think about it."
As visitors walk down the row of fenced pens, the cute little crocs get progressively bigger and bigger until you get to the "Mack Daddy" pen where the 10- to 11-footers lounge around in the grass. Weighing in at well over 400 pounds, these guys aren't nearly as cute, and demand respect. Cuban crocodiles are among the most aggressive in the world, though there has only been one croc-related fatality recorded in Cuba and it involved an elderly man who was spearfishing in the Zapata Swamp.
Getting back to Wikipedia and the crazy things one can find on the internet, let me ask you this: What do Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton have in common? Stay tuned.
Well, today folks, we learn that Castro gifted Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov with a pair of crocodiles in 1978, and while Vlad loved them, his wife, well, not so much. So, after a few years of trying to keep the reptiles as pets, Shatalov palmed them off on the Moscow Zoo in 1981, who, in turn, “regifted” the crocodilian couple to the Skansen Aquarium in Stockholm, Sweden, where this reporter assumes they earned their nicknames.
Fast forward to August 2019 where, during a "Crayfish Party" (whatever that is) at the aquarium, an unsuspecting, septuagenarian was giving a speech while leaning on "Castro" and "Hillary's" glass enclosure. In an instant, one of the 40-year-old crocs made the 6-foot leap and got him some white meat, holding on for about 10, I can only imagine, uncomfortable, seconds, before losing its grip. The man was pretty badly injured but still fared better than the spearfisherman in the swamp. I can't help but wonder which one did it, or why Cuban crocodiles are partial to elderly white men, but that's a topic for another time, or not.