The wilderness and wildlife of Latin America are attractions in and of themselves. The animals you dream about seeing as a kid, but can often only see in a zoo, are viewable in their natural habitat in Latin America. However, while you can see many of Latin America's most popular animals while floating down the Amazon River or birding in the wilds of Trinidad with International Expeditions, there are many species of wildlife that aren't so easy to find. Today we spotlight a few of the top wildlife species in Latin America that are often so rare to spot.
- Leatherback Sea Turtle. Leatherback sea turtles are among the world's most famous turtles because they are the largest on earth. However, despite their size, their population has decreased significantly over the years, for a variety of reasons, but often due to human involvement. Hundreds of leatherbacks never even make it to adulthood. It's for this reason that there are conservation efforts in Latin American countries such as Costa Rica. Joining a Costa Rica eco-tour during their nesting season is your best chance at a sighting and the recommended way of viewing these animals so as to not damage their environment.
- Tapir. This is probably the one animal on this list that you're least familiar with. I like the tapir because of its extraordinary appearances, something like a cross between a warthog and an aardvark. Due to habitat loss and hunting, all four of the tapir species are endangered or threatened. However, if you're going to see a tapir, it's likely to be in the grasslands or forests of South and Central America.
- Jaguar. Of all the animals listed here, this is the one animal you don't want to find yourself face-to-face with since it's one of the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere. It has the same look of leopards, but is larger. Your best chance of spotting a jaguar is going to be on a guided wildlife tour in Latin America. They can be found in multiple parts of Mexico, Central America and South America..
- Manatee. Of the animals listed here, this may be the one you're most familiar with, yet the one you're not likely to have seen yourself. Many people may be familiar with them because of their habitats in Florida, yet a habitat that has become endangered. The Amazonian manatee is the species of manatee that can be found in the freshwater habitats of the Amazon basin in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Venezuela. While it's the smallest of the manatee species, it can still reach a size of nearly 10 feet long. The dark waters of the Amazon are what makes this a species of wildlife that is harder to see. Guests on a February Amazon River cruise with IE were able to help release a baby manatee into the wild after researchers in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve rescued the endangered creature.
- Ornate Hawk-Eagle. While you may be familiar with eagles and hawks, the ornate hawk-eagle is not your typical bird. It's a medium-large bird, but bigger than what you're probably used to seeing with a hawk. They range in length from two to two and a half feet and have a wingspan of up to four feet. They can be spotted in the rainforests of Latin America, with your best chance of actually seeing one being in the early morning hours. While some of the species here are listed as vulnerable or endangered, the ornate hawk-eagle is not, yet is considered rare because of its wide range throughout South and Central America. How rare is it to spot the ornate hawk-eagle? When Amazon tour naturalist Dennis Osario spotted one in May, it marked only the fourth time he’s observed the species during his lifetime!
Tell us in the comments section below the rarest (or most incredible) wildlife sightings you've seen during your travels!
Enjoy more of Spencer's top picks:
- Top 5 Rare Wildlife Sightings in Latin America
- Top 3 Ruins in Latin America You Didn't Know You Wanted to See
- 5 Essential Tips for Picking the Right Tour for You
- 4 Ways to Bring Latin America Home From Your Travels
- 5 Best Waterfalls in South America
Article and photo by Spencer Spellman