Given the diversity of Cuba’s ecosystems, it may come as a surprise that only a few dozen mammal species live here, half of them bats. Wild boar (jabalí) are common in many wild regions, including the cays of Jardines de la Rey, the Lanier swamps of Isla de la Juventud, and the Península de Guanahicabibes, all areas where a small species of deer is also found.
Much of the wildlife is glimpsed only as shadows, such as the jutía (Capromyys), a large forest rodent related to the guinea pig and coypu of South America. It is edible and has been hunted for meat since indigenous times. Today it is endangered though found islandwide. A well-known indigenous animal that you are not likely to see is the solenodon, a rare and primitive insectivorous mammal. The solenodon was thought to have become extinct early this century, but a sole female was spotted in the 1970s, prompting creation of a protected reserve in the Cuchillas de Toa mountains. This ratlike mammal (also called the almiqué) has large padded feet and claws and a long proboscis good for sucking up ants.
Bats are by far the most numerous mammals: Cuba has 27 species. You may come across them slumbering by day halfway up a tree or roosting in a shed. Most species—like the Cuban flower bat and the giant Jamaican fruit bat, with a wingspan of more than 51 centimeters—are frugivores or insectivores. Weighing in as the smallest bat in the world is Cuba’s butterfly bat, also known as the moth bat. There are no vampire bats in Cuba.
Cuba, like most neotropical countries, has few marine mammals, though several species of dolphins are common and seven species of whales are occasionally seen in Cuban waters. The West Indian manatee inhabits coastal lagoons. This herbivorous, heavily wrinkled beast looks like a tuskless walrus, with small beady eyes, fleshy lips, and no hind limbs—just a large, flat, spatulate tail. The creature can weigh up to 900 kilograms and reach 4.3 meters in length. Now endangered, only a few remain in the most southerly waters of the United States and isolated pockets of the Caribbean. Zapata, where the animals are legally protected, has one of the few significant populations, and they are often seen off the northeast coast near Baracoa.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition