Our guess is you probably thought of Havana, dancing, nightlife, cigars, Castro, or Guantanamo Bay. All valid.
But did you know that Cuba actually has 95% forest cover? Now that doesn’t mean it’s 95% forest today, but it’s subtropical and tropical forests are the predominant biome.
Much of the Cuban forest is still intact today. This is partly due to the lack of economic development that Castro’s regime and it’s long standing international trade embargoes place on it. In fact, forest cover in Cuba increased from about 14% in 1956 to 21% today. Many expect things to change in Cuba away from its socialist past, and if they do, development will uptick, putting these forests at risk as we are seeing in Brazil right now with the Amazon.
So now is the time to stand up and protect them proactively, not reactively as we do in much of the world now. The biodiversity in Cuba is incredible! It has more plant species than any other country in the Caribbean, ranks 10th in the world in reptile diversity with 91 different species, and yes of course, is the only home in the world to the Polymita Picta!
Here is a great article about the Cuban forest ecosystem from The Smithsonian.
While Cuba has actually done a pretty good job in protecting it’s forests and even adopting sustainable practices like organic farming under Castro (no, we are not condoning Castro or his regime, but there is nothing wrong with acknowledging some of the things Cuba has done to protect its natural environment) - they are doing a poor job in protecting Polymitas and enforcing illegal trafficking.
This is bad news. You see these snails are not just natural beauties, they are also rainforest engineers. What we mean by this is they serve a critical symbiotic role to trees. Namely in eating fungi that can cause trees disease and harm. They also feed on moss and lichens, which while not typically harmful to trees, can compete for resources needed for photosynthesis when in abundance some studies show. A lot of important species in Cuba from hawks to snakes rely on Polymitas as their food source. You know, that whole food chain thing.
Polymitas also enrich farming in Cuba. Coffee leaves in particular benefit from Polymitas eating harmful fungi, and who doesn’t love a good cup of Cuban coffee?
So yeah, Polymitas need our help.
ENTER THE NORVIS
Larger threatened species like elephants and pandas and rhinos get a lot of international support. A snail? Not so much. Psychologists say this is because we are drawn to animals with faces like our own, and expressions we can see and relate to. You might say, wait, nobody has the trunk of an elephant. True, but elephants are highly social creatures with emotions we can visually recognize, hence the relatability.
So who is gonna fight for the Polymita snails?
Norvis Hernandez, that’s who! Norvis is one of the most inspiring people we have ever met here at Animalia. She has dedicated her entire career and life to protecting the Polymitas. She knows by doing so, she’s protecting other wild species in Cuba as well, and the Cuban forest overall.
She is a Cuban biologist who loves Polymitas so much, she even made her own music video about them!