1993 September 17 - 1994 January 3
Cuba: Nature of an Island, which portrayed the plant and animal life of Cuba, featured photographs, drawings, specimens, and casts of fossils, and highlighted the work of the scientists in the joint project of the American Museum of Natural History and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in Havana, who have been studying Cuba’s biodiversity since 1989. It was curated by Ross D. E. MacPhee, chairman of the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy. In the first arrangement of its kind in forty years, American and Cuban scientists collaborated to survey the island’s biology as its forests were becoming rapidly depleted. The work provided clues as to the origins of many species in the Caribbean and the extinction of many land mammals in the area (1, p. 1; 2, p. 74).
The research team included Ross MacPhee; Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, paleontologist at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural; Alfonso Silva Lee, ecologist and naturalist from the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural; and Michael L. Smith, senior research scientist at the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, D.C. The RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Association of Systematics Collections were also involved in researching Cuba’s biodiversity at this time (1, p. 2-3).
Highlights of the exhibition included (1, p. 2-3):
*Bilingual text in English and Spanish
*Fossil of extinct monkey, Paralouatta varonai
*Fragments of a 20 million-year-old sloth, the oldest fossil mammal found in the West Indies
*Photographs and illustrations of animals unique to Cuba studied or discovered by the research team, including the smallest known bird, a recently discovered pupfish, an artist’s reconstruction of Ornimegalonyx oteri, a giant flightless owl
*An original print of John J. Audubon’s ivory-billed woodpecker
Most of the photographs in the exhibition were the work of Alfonso Silva Lee. After its closing at the Museum, the exhibition went on display in the Museo Nacional de Historia (1, p. 2-3).
This is a condensed summary of the exhibition. For additional information, see Sources and/or Related Resources.
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