Peru is an excellent place to view interesting animals, since it is home to many species that are native to South America. From the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains, this South American country boasts a stunning variety of animals, from big cats to tiny monkeys, and from pink fish to gaily-plumed birds. One of the best places to see as many animals in Peru as possible is Manú National Park. Located at the meeting point of the High Andes and the Amazon Basin, this incredible national park alone boasts over a 1000 different birds and some 220 mammals.
Humboldt penguins, sometimes known as Peruvian penguins, are so named because their home is the Humboldt current, named after the explorer Alexander von Humboldt. These tuxedoed birds, that resemble their cousins, the African and Magellan penguins, breed along the coasts of Peru and Chile. They nest on islands and rocky areas, frequently in caves filled with guano or used by other marine animals. They mainly swim around home, but have been known to travel long distances when the small fishes they eat are in short supply. They’re considered threatened because of overfishing in the Pacific, El Nino and climate change. In Peru, Las Islas Ballestas provide a sanctuary for Humboldt penguins that swim ashore to eat, breed, rest and socialize on the islands.
The Andean bear is the only bear native to South America. It also is known as the spectacled bear because light colored rings encircle the eyes, making it look like the bear is wearing eye glasses. The shaggy fur is usually black, but can also be gray or brownish red. They’re shy animals, preferring the isolation of the cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes. Males can grow up to five feet tall and weigh 340 pounds; the females are half that size. The bear population is shrinking in numbers due to encroaching civilization and poachers.
As you’re walking through the rainforests of Peru, be on the lookout for the Emerald Tree Boa, a non-venomous snake that blends in well with the foliage. This colorful snake, so named because of its bright emerald green color accented with touches of yellow, like to hang out in trees. Younger snakes are usually orange or brick red, turning green as they grow older. When they eat, the boas dine mainly on small birds and mammals. They may go months between meals because their slow metabolism takes them longer to digest their food. Now this is a diet!
The Pink River Dolphin, also known as boto, is a freshwater dolphin, thriving in fast-flowing rivers, lakes and at the confluence of rivers. It can be found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. This pale pink swimmer has a flexible neck, allowing it to move its head from left to right. The Pink River Dolphin is believed to have special powers so it’s been left alone by humans. However, fishermen are beginning to treat it as a competitor for the fish and may kill them if they get tangled in nets.
The vicuña, a relative of the llama and probable ancestor of the alpaca, lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes. It is highly prized for its fine wool, considered one of the rarest in the world. It’s expensive, too, with garments costing as much as $21,000 each. This may be linked to the fact vicuña can only be shorn every three years, but, first you have to catch them in the wild. For a few centuries, beginning with the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire and ending with poachers, the animal became nearly extinct. It is now increasing in numbers, and is the national animal of Peru and pictured on the country’s coat of arms.
The Andean cock-of-the-rock is Peru’s national bird, found mainly in the cloud forests of the Andes. The male is the more colorful, with gray wings, a red-orange head and neck that extends down its back before turning black. A feathered crest extends over its bill. The female is more muted, covered in brownish orange feathers and a smaller crest. The mating ritual may not work for humans, however, as the males sound like squealing pigs as they dance, hop and move around, showing off their bright plumage, to attract the ladies. It works for them, however, as the females generally lay two eggs that hatch in 28 days.
They’re tiny. They’re cute. And, they’re a handful. With their Fu Manchu mustaches, they make you want to cuddle with them. “They” are a species of monkeys known as the Bearded Emperor Tamarin. The Bearded Emperor Tamarin grows to about 10 inches tall and weighs about a pound. Both sexes have long droopy white mustaches that contrast with their gray bodies, sometimes dotted with brown or yellow spots. The monkey is native to the rain forests of South America, such as the Amazon Basin in eastern Peru. They live in groups ruled over by the oldest female.
It’s sleek and well-muscled. It’s one kitty you don’t want to mess with, since it’s built to kill, usually by using its strong teeth and jaws to pierce its prey in its brain between its ears. It’s a jaguar, a spotted animal that is the largest cat in the Americas. While its preferred habitat is the swamps and woods that can be found in the Amazon rainforest, it can survive in the deserts, such as in southwest Arizona. The protected national park of Manu is a good place to see this animal in Peru, especially by the Madre de Dios River where you can find them relaxing on the river banks basking in the sun. Interestingly enough, its name is derived from an Amazon tribal word that is sometimes translated as dog.
The scarlet macaw, native to Central and South America, certainly lives up to its name. Its feathers are predominantly scarlet; the tail is light blue; the wings, yellow; the face, white, and the undersides of the tail and wing feathers are dark red with gold touches, making it, indeed, a very colorful bird. A member of the parrot family, the scarlet macaw lives in the lowlands of the tropical rainforests, particularly the Amazon Basin. They have strong beaks that can crunch the shells of tough nuts that are part of their diet.
When you’re in the Andes or along the Pacific Coast of Peru, keep a watchful eye on the sky. That big “bird” you see may not be a plane. It may be an Andean condor, the world’s largest flying bird. Because of their size – they can weigh 33 pounds with a wing span of 10 feet – they prefer to live where the winds are strong because it helps them stay in the air. The Andean condor is mostly black with bald heads, with males also having a white ring around their neck. A vulture, the Andean condor feeds on dead animals. Colca Cayon, the second deepest canyon in the world, is probably the best place to see the Andean Condor in Peru. Its stunning scenery and the opportunity to spot this amazing bird soaring in the blue skies above adds to the charm of this unique destination.