Cuba: The Pope and the Crocodile

This news item is fairly old, but the recent papal visit to Cuba reminded me of this (un)fortunate crocodile’s journey from Cuba to Italy and back again. The crocodile, of the species Crocodylus rhomfider, was abducted illegally by an overly enthusiastic Italian tourist. After being confiscated by customs officials, it was cared for in Rome’s Bioparco (Zoo). The act of returning the crocodile to its rightful habitat is important because the number of Crocodylus rhomfider has declined in recent years by 80 percent, and, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is a threatened species. This type of crocodile lives in a small area of Cuba. This particular specimen became known as the “Pope’s crocodile” after zoo officials took it along to a papal audience.

Pope Benedict has sent one of his top advisers to attend a send-off ceremony for a Cuban crocodile at Rome zoo. [. . .] The Catholic Church has had difficult relations with the Cuban government. But analysts say the symbolism of the Pope’s gesture ahead of his trip to Cuba will not go unnoticed.

Former Vatican diplomatic representative to Cuba Giovanni Becciu wished the crocodile a good journey and said he was sure “the people of such a magical and enchanted island will give as warm a welcome to the crocodile as they will to the Pope”.

[. . .] Rome zoo organised a lavish send-off for the animal, attended by children waving Vatican, Cuban, and Italian flags. The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the reptile left the zoo in style, in a wooden box placed inside a black limousine. It will be flown to Havana zoo, and later released back into nature.

See BBC newscast on the traveling crocodile at

For original articles, see in English and in Spanish

Photo from

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