Among those attending this morning's general audience with the Holy Father were staff of the zoological park in Rome (the "Bioparco"), which is currently celebrating its centenary. They brought with them a rare live specimen of the Cuban crocodile, to represent the 1,200 animals which live in the park and as a sign of the environmental protection and education work the structure carries out.
The Cuban crocodile, which is classified as an endangered species, has seen its numbers fall by 80 per cent in recent years, and it currently survives only in a small area of the island. The young specimen shown to the Pope is being kept in the zoological park for a period of recovery. In March, coinciding with Benedict XVI's apostolic trip to Cuba, it will be returned to its country of origin. In a statement Paolo Giuntarelli, president of the "Bioparco Foundation" said that, "the meeting with the Pope is the most prestigious seal of approval for our first hundred years, and the best possible beginning to a new century of history".A rare Cuban crocodile is held by a member of Rome's 'Bio Park' zoo after it was presented to Pope Benedict XVI, a supporter of endangered species, during his weekly general audience on January 11, 2012 at Paul VI hall at The Vatican. The 'Bio Park's' croc will make its return to Cuba around the same time that the pope makes a scheduled trip to the island, in March.