Wildlife in Focus Part 4: Latin America

| May 7, 2014

Latin America is an incredibly exciting destination for wildlife lovers, and our guide will introduce you to some of the most sought-after creatures to see here.

Discover giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands

From the Amazon rainforest to the Galapagos Islands, Latin America is home to the habitats of some of the world's most amazing creatures. Spotting alligators from afar, catching glimpses of colourful macaws and having up-close encounters with giant tortoises are just some of the exciting possibilities for wildlife-based adventures in this part of the world.

In this, our final instalment of our Wildlife in Focus series, we are going to introduce you to some of Latin America's most fascinating creatures.

The Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, Brazil

With the waters of the Amazon and the wetlands of the Pantanal, Brazil is a veritable treasure trove for wildlife lovers. The habitats it supports provide a home to a rich variety of wildlife - and discovering this provides the perfect opportunity to contrast natural Brazil with its bustling cities, such as Rio de Janeiro.

The alligator

While once an endangered species, the alligator has successfully once again reached healthy numbers - a feat that can be attributed to a combination of factors, including efforts to preserve habitats and lower demand for alligator products. As a species, these predators are estimated to be 150 million years old, and can reach up to 4.6 metres in length - though the female of the species is somewhat smaller.

The hyacinth macaw

The Pantanal is widely considered to be one of the finest places in the world to view rare wildlife, and the hyacinth macaw is, in our opinion, among the most exciting creatures to spot here. Characterised by its bright blue plumage, this rare bird is the largest of all macaw species (able to grow up to 1 metre long) and, like most kinds of macaw, is sadly endangered. The main threat to its survival is habitat loss, though hunting for the pet trade has also led to population depletion.


The Galapagos Islands

Few destinations can claim creatures so remarkable that they are named after them - the Galapagos Islands can. Renowned for its diverse flora and fauna, this archipelago was named after one of its most famous residents, the giant tortoise: 'galapago' being the Spanish word for 'tortoise'. These gentle reptiles are the highlight of any trip here, but are by no means the only animal to see.

The giant tortoise

The giant tortoise is a beautiful reptile that, at up to 4ft long, can be a somewhat surreal sight when compared to the tortoises commonly found in the UK - but this contrast is, of course, what makes them such a wonder to see. Living longer than any other vertebrate, the giant tortoise has an average lifespan of 100 years, as well as many subspecies, which can be seen across the archipelago. Just two years ago, the only surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise sadly passed away - the last of his kind.


The sea turtle

Like the alligator, the sea turtle has been on Earth for a significant period of time - more than 100 million years. Visiting the Galapagos Islands, you might be lucky enough to swim with this remarkable creature, which has many subspecies, almost all of which are classified as endangered.

Green sea turtles are the species you will come across in the Galapagos Islands, and they use the islands' beaches to lay their eggs. In April, they hatch, and you might just see the tiny newcomers making their way across the sand to the water.

Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the planet's most ecologically diverse destinations, thanks in no small part to its impressive variety of habitats, which include rainforest, cloud forest, lakes and volcanoes.

The quetzal

Widely regarded as one of the world's most beautiful birds, the quetzal is vibrantly coloured and can be spotted in the Monteverde cloud forest, which is a real haven for rare animals and plants. While all quetzals have colourful plumage, the males' is more vibrant, and during mating season the male of the species even grow impressive tail feathers that can reach up to 1 metre long.

Living primarily in tropical forests, the quetzal is endangered because of dwindling habitats. Costa Rica's protected cloud forests are a vital safe haven for this remarkable species.


The squirrel monkey

In Manuel Antonio dwells the squirrel monkey - a small species of monkey that can be found in many destinations across South America. This primate has olive-coloured fur, though its limbs and back are bright yellow, while its face is white. The squirrel monkey tends to live in groups of between 20 and 50, so if you spot one, chances are you may be able to see several others nearby.

See Cox & Kings' wildlife holidays to Latin America here.

Read the other articles in this series – Part 1: AfricaPart 2: The Far East and Part 3: India.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock

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