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International Crane Foundation Cuba Expedition

February 4-16, 2002

Since 1995,  International Crane Foundation has been supporting work in Cuba and it’s neighboring Isle of Youth to study the Cuban Sandhill Crane, an endangered subspecies or our beloved Sandhill Crane.


In the early 1950’s, an American dentist from Michigan by the name of Dr. Lawrence Wilkenshaw was the first to study the Cuban Sandhill Cranes. His work focused on the Isle of Youth population and he documented such behaviors as nesting and habitat use.  However, following the 1959 Cuban Revolution, little was heard about the birds until the early 1990’s when ICF partnered with a remarkable woman by the name of Xiomara Galvez, whose original work focused on the endangered and endemic Cuban Parrot.  In 1995, Xiomara and ICF’s co-founder, George Archibald met for the first time and spent a considerable amount of time putting plans together for collaborative studies of la grulla Cubana.

In that same year, Xiomara took the first step towards organizing the crane program in Cuba, she organized a national survey to be distributed to many contacts throughout the country.  Reports arrived that cranes survived in seven areas of the country.  As a result of the survey, ICF sponsored its first ever expedition to Cuba.  George Archibald and Sam Evans, an ICF Trustee, traveled to Cuba to do aerial surveys.  The surveys confirmed the presence of the birds.

Since then, ICF, has financially supported Xiomara and her field crew’s activities, particularly on the Isle of Youth, which hosts the largest population of the Sandhills and is the site of Xiomara’s PhD fieldwork. In 1996, 1997, 98, 99, 01 and 02, ICF has sponsored expeditions to Cuba for educators, biologists, fire ecologists, GIS specialists, veterinarians and photographers to exchange information and experiences and, just as importantly, to celebrate the cranes with the Cuban people.

Current Events

In February 2002, a team of 5 Americans traveled to Cuba to be part of an education-focused expedition.  The goals of the 2002 expedition were to:

  • Disseminate information about ICF to American and Cuban educators and students, and to empower them to carry on or continue this mission in their classrooms and communities.
  • Actively participate in Cuban Crane Festival activities while interacting with and supporting Cuban educators, biologists, and professionals.
  • Develop activities, educational programs and resources focusing on crane ecology and conservation.  Cranes will be used as a tool to build international relationships and cooperation to teach and empower Cuban and American students to become involved in a common conservation goal.
  • Plan and implement student and teacher workshops to take place in Cuba.
  • Participate in an international art exchange between American school children and Cuban school children, engaging both Cuban and American students in the arts and natural sciences.


In order to accomplish the goals of the project, ICF has partnered with individuals and organizations that share a common conservation goal.  Optics for the Tropics, Inc. was one such organization that so generously donated five pairs of binoculars to our expedition.  Many Cuban biologists, who not only participate in field research but also community-wide environmental education, do not possess the necessary equipment to continue to grow in their field of interests or to share the world of nature with others.  For example, Eliser Socarras Torres, a bird guide and educator near Moron, Ciego de Avila province, lacked a pair of binoculars.  Likewise, biologists studying crane ecology on the Isle of Youth lack the optical equipment that would make their work more efficient.  During our expedition, the five OFT sponsored binoculars were presented to Eliser and four other bird specialists to assist in their work and continue ICF’s partnership on behalf of the Cuban Sandhill Crane.  The biologists will use the equipment to collect information on the cranes, their movements, their habitat use, territory delineations, and other important life cycle data.  Likewise, the biologists will utilize the equipment to study and observe other birds as well.  As John Muir pointed out, when we tug on one thing in the universe, we are reminded that all things are connected.

The smiles and gratitude of the biologists receiving these generous gifts more than tell the story of how this optical equipment will be used, and how well the equipment performed.  On behalf of the International Crane Foundation and all of our Cuban colleagues, I would like to thank Optics for the Tropics.  With your help, we have touched the lives of our Cuban friends, and have continued to promote friendship and goodwill between the two countries.  After all, one does not need to seek new travels in life, but rather new eyes…

Muchas gracias, Optics for the Tropics.

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