Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to see animals in the wild these days. Many species are now highly endangered due to the loss of natural habitat and other human interference.
If you’re a wildlife buff just like me, you would want to see these five endangered species before they go extinct. Who knows, you might just be one of the last people that sees them outside of a textbook.
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Jaguars — Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
Jaguars face the danger of extinction because of the destruction of their rainforest habitat, and because of the poachers that hunt them for their fur and their enormous, pointy teeth.
Jaguars subsist on a large variety of prey. Equipped with powerful jaws, they can take down their prey with a single bite to the skull. Their bite is so powerful that jaguars can even eat animals with strong shells, like armadillos. They are good swimmers, and take to the water to hunt caimans and turtles.
In ancient times, the Mayans revered the jaguar, and the animal played a central role in Mayan mythology. Several Mayan gods took the form of jaguars, including gods of war, the underworld, and midwifery.
It is extremely rare to see these animals in the wild. But you can try to track them down in Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the few places where jaguars still live in the wild. Another spot where you can see them in the wild is Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.
Golden Frog — Anton Valley, Panama
If frogs ever decide to hold a worldwide beauty contest, the winner will most certainly hail from Panama. Panamanian golden frogs are a striking shade of yellow, a color that signals a warning to predators – golden frogs have extremely toxic skin.
Golden frogs have a relatively quiet “ribbit,”which has led them to evolve an interesting characteristic. It’s difficult to hear their ribbiting in the noisy rainforest, so male golden frogs wave to each other to communicate their dominance over a certain area. They can also wave just to be friendly.
Panama has adopted the golden frog as its national symbol, and it is protected under Panamanian law. Golden frogs used to live near streams in the valleys of central Panama, but these frogs have become extremely rare, due to a disease that decimated their population in the last century.
Scientists have come to the rescue, and are now breeding the frogs in captivity at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in the Anton Valley of central Panama. You’ll see other rare species when you visit this center, including white-faced capuchins and spider monkeys.
Resplendent Quetzal — Tikal National Park, Guatemala
The resplendent quetzal has a long history of cultural significance in Guatemala. Based on Mayan engravings, we know that Mayan priests wore quetzal feathers during religious ceremonies. These birds also appear on the modern-day Guatemalan currency.
Quetzals come in bright shades of red, green, and blue, with patches of iridescence. In order to attract a mate, male quetzals grow two long tail feathers. These feathers can grow as long as 3 feet (1 m), several times the length of this plump bird. These rare birds live mostly in cloud forests, in the highlands of Central America. Cloud forests are a type of rainforest, with large amounts of precipitation and humidity.
Tikal National Park is the ideal place to see quetzals, surrounded by the ruins of the Mayan civilization that treasured them. While visiting the massive temple complexes scattered throughout the national park, try to listen for the cry of the quetzal, which sounds a little bit like a puppy whimpering.
Visiting the national park helps ensure that the quetzal conservation organization remains funded and are able to protect endangered environments. It’s not easy to find a quetzal, even in their limited habitats. Keep in mind that their mating season happens between March and April, which is the time you’re most likely to see one.
Manatees — Swallow Caye National Park, Belize
Belize’s Caye Caulker has a marine reserve that offers a safe home to the endangered West Indian manatee. Swallow Caye National Park has a turtle grass bed where manatees spend their peaceful days munching on enormous quantities of vegetation.
These endangered animals aren’t difficult to spot – manatees are mammals, so they must surface in order to breathe. When you visit Swallow Caye, keep an eye out for their bristly muzzles poking out of the water. Water here is relatively shallow, so you’ll also see them slowly swimming across swaying patches of turtle grass in the clear Caribbean water.
In this protected area, your tour guide will shut off the boat’s engine and paddle to the spot where the manatees feed. Boat propellers pose a significant threat to manatees – they often injure themselves when they inspect passing boats. Because manatees are a protected species, visitors are not allowed to feed, pet, or swim with the manatees.
Tapirs — Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador
Tapirs have the distinction of being one of the most unusual looking animals. They are closely related to rhinoceroses, and distantly to manatees. Similar to rhinos, they have bad eyesight but a strong sense of smell. Like many animals that live in Ecuador’s rainforest, the destruction of their habitat presents a significant threat to their survival.
The tapir’s short snout looks like a tiny version of an elephant’s trunk. It functions in much the same way, helping the animal to put vegetation into its mouth. Tapirs eat mostly fruit, and they help disperse seeds throughout the rain forest.
Ecuador is one of the few places you can still see tapirs in the wild. Cuyabeno National Park protects 1.5 million acres (603,380 ha) of rainforest, helping ensure the survival of the tapir and other animals that live in it. For a good chance to spot them in the wild, spend a night or two at the Tapir Lodge and get up close and personal with the creatures.