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capybara

Take a look at our list of weird – you’ve probably not even heard of – wildlife in Latin America.

1. CAPYBARA

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Native to South America, this cuddly-looking creature looks like it ought to measure just a few inches when, in reality, visitors to the wetland areas where the capybara is common are surprised to find it is the size of a large dog. Perhaps the capybara is confused by this too, as it makes a barking noise when it senses danger. Of course it is in fact a rodent (the world’s largest, no less), but as the species is semi-aquatic it has slightly webbed feet to aid swimming. Somewhat hilariously, the capybara is prone to sunburn: to combat this, it takes advantage of its marshy surroundings to create makeshift sun screen by rolling in mud.

2. GIANT ANTEATER

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Normal anteaters look unusual enough, but the giant version truly looks like one of nature’s mistakes. Of course in reality it’s tremendously well-adapted for the one task that is the great passion of every anteater’s life – hoovering up as many tasty ants and termites as possible. The figure can be as many as 30,000 in a single day. This scourge of the insect world is one of the few mammals to have no teeth, instead possessing a 2-foot sticky tongue that it can extend and retract up to 150 times a minute. Soldier ants are the bane of its existence, and it moves quickly from one ant colony to the next to avoid this nemesis, sleeping wherever it finds a quiet corner with its large bushy tail covering its body like a quilt. Amazingly, the giant anteater, which is commonly spotted in the wilderness areas of both South and Central America, can grow to measure up to seven feet in length and weigh ten stone. It can also be aggressive when threatened, fighting its corner on its hind legs. Similarly, the female anteater stands up to give birth, immediately after which the new-born anteater cub will climb onto the mother’s back, where it remains for much of its infancy.

3. HOATZIN

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The hoatzin is frequently spotted in the Amazon jungle and the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela, but even more frequently smelled. It is unflatteringly known as the ‘stinkbird’ owing to the fact that its two stomachs cause the bird to pass wind continuously. Luckily, the hoatzin gets the last laugh: its melodiousness has turned the tables on hunters, who flee from the repulsive stench. Further damaging the hoatzin’s popularity, this raucous, flatulent, pheasant-like bird has a call reminiscent of a clapped-out-gearbox. However, there is one group of people who admire the hoatzin, and that’s natural historians. Hoatzin chicks have claws on the thumb and first finger which enable them to climb up trees with great ease, leading scientists to believe that there is a direct link between the bird and the extinct archaeopteryx.

4. MATA MATA TURTLE

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A far cry from the more photogenic hawksbill and leatherhead turtles so celebrated by visitors to Latin America, the mata mata is seemingly a throwback to prehistoric times. With its armour of horns and ridged scales, it floats unnoticed in the swamps and marshes of the Amazon and Orinoco Delta until unsuspecting prey swims by… But while this might be one turtle you’d rather not spot while out swimming, it doesn’t pose any threat to humans, preferring a diet of small invertebrates and fish.

5. THREE-TOED SLOTH

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The world’s slowest moving mammal is so unhurried that moss grows on its fur – surely a sign if ever there was one that you may have let yourself go a little too much. Doesn’t bother the sloth though: they happily hang upside down all day, sleeping their lives of leisure away, while a slow digestive system and low body temperature ensure that the most they need to achieve in a day is munching on a few leaves. Owing to the sloth’s topsy-turvy lifestyle, its internal organs are in different positions from the norm and its fur grows in the ‘wrong’ direction. In spite all of this, it’s also incredibly cute.

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Real Latin american experts

  • Sally Dodge
    Sally Dodge - Travel Expert

    A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.

  • Millie Davies Mono
    Millie Davies - Travel Expert

    Having caught the travel bug as a child, Millie has travelled all over Latin America before making her home in Buenos Aires for 3 years.

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    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Expert

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made Holidays and Group Tour sales team.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Expert

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

  • Heloise Buxton
    Heloise Buxton - Travel Expert

    Heloise started her Latin American journey as an exchange student in Santiago, Chile. With extended summer holidays this was the perfect opportunity to backpack through Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Expert

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

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