The hawksbill sea turtle is critically endangered not only in Costa Rica but worldwide. The spectacularly intricate shells of these sea turtles are highly sought after to make “tortoise-shell” jewelry and other novelty items. They are also at a constant risk of being caught as bycatch by the increasing number of longline fishing boats (many of them illegal) that exploit the waters around Costa Rica. While efforts are being made to protect the hawksbill sea turtles, as well as the leatherback, Olive Ridley, and green sea turtles in Costa Rica, they very well might disappear forever during our lifetime. Your best chance at seeing one is between September and October when they nest in the Cahuita National Park or in the Golfo Dulce where they forage for food.
In 2014, the scalloped hammerhead shark was listed as critically endangered in Costa Rica with 90% of the population decimated by the illegal shark fin trade and longline fishing. Sharks worldwide are being brutally slaughtered to meet the extremely high demand from Asian countries (like China) for shark fin soup. They are also regularly caught up in fishing nets and hooked lines as bycatch. One of the greatest congregations of scalloped hammerhead sharks is around Isla del Coco, but they can also be spotted while diving in Golfo Dulce. It is believe that hammerhead sharks breed and give birth in Golfo Dulce before returning to the waters near Isla del Coco.
The number of great green macaws left in Costa Rica is frighteningly low; in 2012, there were only around 250 of them. One of the main threats to this colorful bird is deforestation. The great green macaw feeds almost exclusively on the nuts of the mountain almond tree, which is also the only tree the bird nests in. The mountain almond tree is itself considered endangered because of the commercial demand for its wood. Several initiatives and efforts are continuing to be made to help save this beautiful bird, but once its habitat is gone, it will be too. The Tortuguero National Park is one of those habitats, as well as other lowland rainforests in Costa Rica.
Geoffroy’s spider monkey was once abundant in Costa Rica but is now listed as an endangered species and the large and very social monkey can currently only be found in a few places in Costa Rica. Hunting, deforestation, and the illegal exotic pet trade are to blame for the dwindling population. Your best bet for spotting a troop of these marvelous creatures is in the Santa Rosa National Park and the Corcovado National Park.
The grey-crowned squirrel monkey, or mono tití as it is called in Costa Rica, is the smallest primate in the country and seeing a troop of them is a very rare sight. Because of deforestation and human development throughout the monkey’s habitat in the central and south Pacific regions of Costa Rica, many troops have been confined to small patches of forests. Because they travel through the treetops, the growing gaps in the forests canopy have greatly restricted their movement and ability to reproduce and thrive. The Titi Conservation Alliance has been working tirelessly to help reverse the dreaded fate of these adorable creatures, but they are still greatly threatened. Manuel Antonio National Park and the Corcovado National Park are two places where you might be able to see them.
The jaguar is the primary land predator in Costa Rica. This beautiful feline is highly endangered and is rarely ever seen in the wild. It is also a stalk-and-ambush predator, so you probably wouldn’t see one even if it was standing within viewing distance. The two biggest threats to this iconic cat are habitat loss and illegal poaching as it has long been sought after for its uniquely patterned pelt. Your best chance of having a jaguar encounter is at La Paz Waterfall Gardens or Las Pumas Rescue Center. A few lucky people have spotted them in the Corcovado National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, and Carara National Park.
The jaguarundi is Costa Rica’s most bizarre feline. This little cat looks more like a weasel but is actually related to the puma. Due to deforestation and human development, the jaguarundi’s population size is quite small. This is the only wild cat in Costa Rica that is more active during the day than at night. The largest population of them can be found in the Palo Verde National Park. They are very territorial and, while small in size, should not be approached (if you’re lucky enough to see one).