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- Luke Abrahams
From kaleidoscopic parrots to ferocious jaguars, killer piranhas to the sweetest pygmy marmosets, South America truly represents the power and magisterial beauty of the animal kingdom. Here are 19 fabulously fierce and beautiful animals you MUST see on your next trip to this spectacularly diverse, bewitching and wondrous continent…oh, and where to find them too!
These sleepy monsters are the most common of the three-toed sloths. Their amazing algae-covered fur helps to camouflage them in their forest environments. They spend most of their time playing, eating and sleeping in trees, but normally come down to the ground for a quick poo once a week.
Where to find them: Northern South America, particularly in the rainforests of Brazil, Panama, Nicaragua and Peru.
Nothing screams South America more than the Guanaco. At over 1 meter high, these 100+ kg camelids vary in colour and size across the continent. They love jumping around and causing mischief in dry, open country in the mountains and on the plains.
Where to find them: All over, but for the most breathtaking sightings, head to Argentine Patagonia.
The Patagonian Mara is basically a huge herbivorous mouse and is the third largest rodent in the world. They grow to about 30 inches head to toe and have very powerful hoof-like feet, which are well-suited for running across their epic grassland habitats.
Where to find them: Argentina, from Patagonia to as far south as the Tierra del Fuego.
The word jaguar comes from ancient Amazonian tongues meaning ‘beast’ and ‘dog.’ These big cats are exclusively native to the Americas and are one of the continents’ top apex predators. Their shacks of choice are normally in lush rainforests, swamps and woodlands, but they’re often spotted in deserts and open wildernesses.
Where to find them: All over, particularly in Manú National Park in Peru and Brazil’s Xingu National Park.
South American Coati
Coatis are Brazil’s answer to meerkats. They look a bit like badgers and ring-tailed lemurs, but are actually related to racoons and live both above and below ground. The cutesy animals have a long fluffy tail that they hold high in the air while they forage for food. If you get the chance to feed one, keep in mind that they love fresh fruit.
Where to find them: In the north, particularly in Brazil and Colombia.
Bald uakari monkeys are incredibly active, super-intelligent and live in large social groups of up to 100. Their mysterious bright red faces are thought to be an indication of health – the paler, the less healthy. All day, everyday, these cat-sized monkeys bounce about the treetops feasting on seeds, fruits and even the odd caterpillar.
Where to find them: Peru and Brazil, especially in seasonally flooded areas of the Amazon.
Warning: ultra-cuteness overload. Weighing just 100 grams, the pygmy marmoset is the tiniest monkey on the planet. Despite their small size, these adorable primates can leap up to five metres between trees.
Where to find them: Amazonian Brazil.
Blue-footed boobies (while having a giggle-inducing name) are large colorful birds found along South America’s coastline, where they build their nests on small islands with razor-sharp rocky coasts. They got their names from the Spanish word ‘bobo’, meaning clown. Why? Well, they’re pretty clumsy on land and often fall over when they waddle.
Where to find them: Across vast swathes of the eastern coast but most prefer seeking them out on the Galapagos islands.
Antarctic Fur Seal
Super cute alert. This South American species of fur seal is commonly found all over the continent. Although most of these adorable chubby pups are black at birth, around 1 in 1000 are blonde like the little guy above.
Where to find them: Brazil, Ecuador, the Galapagos and even as far south as the Falklands.
These absolutely terrifying beasts are the descendants of ancient super snakes which used to feed on the likes of the T-Rex. Green Anacondas can grow more than 29 feet and weigh up to 550 pounds. They normally live in swamps, marshes and very slow-moving streams in tropical rainforests.
Where to find them: The Amazon Rainforest and Orinoco basins, but trust us, they’ll find you and eat you first.
These vicious fish really are the stuff of your nightmares. Their reputation as ravenous, insatiable killers is well-deserved. Piranhas have incredibly powerful jaws and deadly razor-sharp triangular teeth that lock onto their prey. In groups, they can rip the flesh off a large animal in as little as two minutes. However, contrary to popular belief, they are actually scavengers and prefer to feed on small fish, insects and even plants. Thanks for demonizing them, Hollywood.
Where to find them: The basin of the Amazon River.
These tropical birds are just gorgeous to look at and are Instagram gold. Closely related to pink flamingos, wild ibis have an extremely varied diet and eat everything from small crabs, fish, frogs, worms and the odd insect.
Where to find them: Coastal regions, particularly in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.
These mischievous and playful birds are a favorite on the continent because of their glorious plumage. Unfortunately their numbers are rapidly declining because of extreme deforestation throughout the entire continent. They typically feed on fruit, nuts and vegetables. Their gloriously colorful and powerful bills are some of the strongest in the animal kingdom.
Where to find them: Amazonian Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil.
This furry beast is about twice the size of a domestic cat. Unfortunately their dapper looks have made them targets for poachers, but after years of conservation efforts, their numbers are steadily starting to increase.
Where to find them: All over the continent, particularly in the rainforests of Brazil.
With a wingspan of three meters, Andean condors are truly massive. Weighing a colossal 15 kilograms, these enormous scavengers of the sky are one of the largest birds in the world. They can live up to 75 years in captivity and typically produce only a single offspring every two years.
Where to find them: They are commonly found in the mountains of Bolivia, Argentina and Peru.
These huge rats are closely related to guinea pigs. Exclusively native to South America, they are the largest rodents in the world. As heavy as a fully-grown man, Capybaras are normally found frolicking about in the water. They are basically just giant fat pigs – what’s cuter than that?
Where to find them: In savannahs and dense forests throughout Brazil and central parts of Argentina.
Southern Right Whale
Right wales are so named because naughty whalers thought they were the ‘right whale’ to catch back in the day. They travel thousands of miles every year but are commonly found lurking off the coast of South America and Australia. Females can grow up to 70 meters and can weigh up to 90,000 kilograms.
Where to find them: Southern Patagonia, Argentina.
These fearsome crocs live between 30 and 40 years. They are normally found in lakes and slow moving rivers of the Amazon basin. They feed on small fish and animals but have been known to snap up the occasional jaguar.
Where to find them: The Brazilian and Peruvian Amazonian basin.
South American Toucan
The toucan is known throughout the world for its vibrant beak. They feed on all kinds of fruit, especially figs, and use their massive bills to rip out frogs, insects and small reptiles from their homes. Jaguars, snakes and weasels are apparently terrified of them. We just think they’re super pretty.
Where to find them: Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and eastern and central Paraguay.
For more brilliant pictures of South America, check out 18 photos that prove Patagonia is the most amazing place on Earth.