Agreement With Cuban Museum Paves Way for Deeper Collaboration and New Exhibition

by AMNH on

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The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and Cuban National Museum of Natural History (Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Cuba, MNHN) will collaborate on research, exhibitions, and education as part of a formal Memorandum of Understanding signed in Havana on July 9.  

As the first initiative under the agreement, the American Museum of Natural History announced that this fall it will present a bilingual exhibition, ¡Cuba!, about the Caribbean island nation. 

Museum Facade DuskCentral Park West
The Museum facade from Central Park West.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

The agreement follows more than a century of scientific collaboration between AMNH and Cuban researchers, including biologists from MNHN since that institution’s founding in 1960. AMNH also announced that MNHN Curator Emeritus Gilberto Silva Taboada will receive an honorary degree from the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School

Building on its legacy of scientific research with Cuban colleagues, the Museum recently launched a new research collaboration with Cuba under the banner of Explore21. This comprehensive Museum initiative began in 2013 and works to foster innovative scientific expeditions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski Cuba Expedition
Museum researcher Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski (center) with Ph.D-degree candidate Spencer Galen (left) and MNHN curator Xochitl Ayón (right) in Cuba's Humboldt National Park during the 2015 Explore21 expedition.
© A. Porzecanski

In the fall of 2015, the Explore21 expedition to Cuba, led by Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, Dr. Susan Perkins, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, and Dr. George Amato, director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, sent a team of Museum and Cuban scientists to Humboldt National Park. This multidisciplinary team surveyed the park, which is among the most remote and biologically important areas of the country, to advance the understanding of Cuban biodiversity, its evolution, biogeography, and conservation.

Opening this November, ¡Cuba! will explore the extraordinary biodiversity across the island’s remote forests, deep caves, expansive wetlands, and dazzling reefs through immersive exhibits that have been developed with colleagues at MNHN. In addition, the exhibition will highlight Cuba’s culture, its people, and its history.

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean region, technically an archipelago made up of more than 4,000 islands and cays. It is known for its exceptional biodiversity: about 50 percent of its plants and 32 percent of its vertebrate animals are endemic, species that are found only on the island. ¡Cuba! is co-curated by Dr. Porzecanski and Dr. Chris Raxworthy, curator-in-charge of the Department of Herpetology.

Freshly hatched Cuban crocodile crawls out of its shell.
A baby Cuban crocodile photographed in Zapata wetlands. This species is endemic to Cuba, and found nowhere else on Earth.
© G. Amato

Highlights will include a re-creation of Zapata wetlands, home to the endangered Cuban crocodile; a reconstructed cave environment where visitors can examine fossil remains of extinct species such as Megalocnus rodens, a giant ground sloth once common to the island; and live lizards, boas, and frogs. 

In addition to focusing on Cuban biodiversity, the exhibition will showcase Cuban culture and life—including art, music, spiritual traditions, celebrations, food, and farming.