American Museum of Natural History and Cuba Agree to Deepen Collaboration
The American Museum of Natural History is kicking off a new U.S.-Cuban research collaboration with “¡Cuba!,” a bilingual exhibition planned for the fall that will include live animals and specimens and showcase the nation’s culture and history.
The museum and the Cuban National Museum of Natural History signed a formal memorandum of understanding in Havana on July 9. The agreement, which the natural history museum announced Tuesday morning, includes collaborating on research, exhibitions and education, and was also signed by the Cuban Environmental Agency.
The exhibition, set to open in New York in November, will highlight the biodiversity of Cuba, an archipelago of more than 4,000 islands and cays. Its wildlife includes a rare insectivore known as the Cuban solenodon, a shrew-like mammal that subdues its prey with venomous saliva, and the bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest living bird. About half of its plants and 32% of its vertebrate animals are only found in Cuba.
“There is more to the island than old cars, large cigars and Cuban music,” said Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski, director of the museum’s Center for Biodiversity & Conservation, who is co-curating the show with Dr. Chris Raxworthy, curator-in-charge in the museum’s herpetology department. “Virtually every habitat found in the Caribbean can be found in Cuba. It has this unique biodiversity.”
The exhibition will include footage from an expedition last fall to Humboldt National Park in eastern Cuba, where Cuban scientists and researchers from the museum recorded several species new to science. The trip was funded by the museum’s Explore21 program, which supports multidisciplinary fieldwork using emerging technologies and previously sent teams to the Solomon Islands and to Papua New Guinea.
The park encompasses roughly 270 square miles and contains the largest forest area in the Caribbean. The venture was the first major Cuban-American scientific expedition to the park in about four decades, Dr. Porzecanski said.
“It has been challenging for Cuban scientists to do field work because they have limited access to vehicles and to fuel,” she added. “That’s the kind of activity that these agreements can facilitate.”
The November show will also explore aspects of Cuban culture ranging from contemporary art to tobacco cultivation to religion. Among them: a re-creation of a throne used for Orisha worship in an Afro-Cuban spiritual tradition also known as Santería that evolved from Yoruba mythology and elements of Roman Catholicism.
The American Museum of Natural History has a long record of collaboration with Cuban researchers. Museum scientists have led nearly 30 expeditions and field projects to Cuba over the past 120 years.
Cubans welcome the museum’s financial support of fieldwork, said Dr. Porzecanski, adding that the exchange goes both ways: “There is amazing scientific expertise and knowledge in Cuba and we hope that will become broadly known.”