Guide to Unusual Amazon Wildlife

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Spanning over one billion acres, the Amazon rainforest is home to the largest selection of biodiversity on the planet. Peru is an excellent place to encounter some of the Amazon’s diverse wildlife, as over half of the country’s landmass is covered by jungle.

Here’s a look at just a few of the more unusual Amazonian wildlife species—and your best bets for seeing them up close.

Amazon River Dolphin

The Amazon river dolphin is one of only five freshwater dolphin species in the world and is marked by distinct changes in its coloring throughout its lifetime: from a dark gray at birth to a rosy pink in its development and finally bluish white at full maturity. Its unique features include a ridge along its back—rather than a dorsal fin—and unattached vertebrae that allow it to bend its neck at a 90-degree angle.

Amazon River Dolphin

Photo credit: Zemlinki!

Pompadour Cotinga

Peru is a paradise for hardcore birders, with over 1,800 documented species and counting. One of the more beautifully colored rainforest species is the male pompadour cotinga, distinguished by its deep red wine plumage and snow white flight feathers. The bird has been spotted in the white sand forests of the River Nanay near Iquitos.

Pompadour cotinga

Photo credit: Shihmei Barger

Lowland Tapir

This curious-looking mammal is marked by its elongated, downward-turning snout, which helps it to grasp wild leaves, fruits, and branches suitable for eating. One of four known species of tapir, the lowland tapir can grow to measure a massive six feet in length and weigh up to 550 pounds. These capable swimmers and divers reside near marsh and swamp areas and are major seed dispersers.

Lowland tapir

Photo credit: Tracy Gill

Paiche

The paiche fish has enjoyed a revival in recent years, thanks to conservation efforts throughout South America. The species can grow to be up to nine feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds, making it the largest freshwater fish in the Americas—and a wondrous sight to behold. Some tour companies offer excursions to paiche farms so you can see and feed the enormous fish up-close.

Paiche

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke

Amazon Horned Frog

As you may have guessed, this amphibian is discerned by two small spikes just above the eyes that resemble horns. Known as indiscriminate eaters, Amazon horned frogs ambush their prey by burying themselves in leaves of the forest floor. Males may display a dark green or even lime color, while females are tan. They’re nocturnal hunters, so your best bet of seeing them is on a night hike.

Amazon horned frog

Photo credit: Geoff Gallice

Bald Red Uakari Monkey

Monkeys are a staple part of most Amazon adventures, but it would be a real treat to spot a bald red uakari monkey on your trip, with its strikingly crimson—and hairless—face. The red skin is actually a sign of good health and suitability for mating. Though they are social animals and commonly found in large groups, bald red uakaris are often hunted my locals and are listed as a vulnerable species.

Bald red uakari monkey

Photo credit: Marc Wisniak

Best Ways to Spot Wildlife

Staying in an eco-lodge is a good opportunity for early morning birding, as well as daytime canopy tours, which provide tourists with a bird’s eye view of the rainforest.

Hiking is another popular means of spotting wildlife, especially at night, when the jungle’s most feared reptiles begin to stalk their prey. Many eco-lodges offer night time walks to give you the opportunity to see various nocturnal species.

River cruises provide the greatest amount of comfort and are your best bets for spotting dolphins and other river creatures, though it can be tough to spot wildlife without a knowledgeable guide.

Kayla Washko is a US expat who first visited Peru in 2008 to study Spanish and Incan Archaeology at Lima’s La Catolica university. She wrote this article on behalf of Tambo Blanquillo, a family owned lodge in the Manu region of the Peruvian Amazon.

1 Comment

  1. Terrie Exley

    May 23, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    The pics are amazing! I've always had a love for wildlife and would feel like I won the lottery if I had the opportunity to visit the Amazon!
    Great post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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