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10 Most Endangered Animals in South America

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South America is home to approximately 40% of the world’s largest plant and animal species. Tragically, this bountiful diversity is drastically diminishing. Here’s a list of the most endangered animals in South America that desperately need our attention.

most endangered animals south america

If you have had the opportunity to visit South America, you would have seen nearly every type of habitat on the planet: from the steamy tropical rainforests of the Amazon to mountains, deserts, grasslands, temperate forests, and finally, the fierce seas and ice floes of the sub-Antarctic. With such a varied landscape, naturally there is a wide variety of animal species.  

However, the rapidly growing population, cruel land clearing for cultivation, and global warming have all impacted South America’s biodiversity. According to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species, nearly 30% of the continent’s organisms are on the verge of endangerment.

Here’s the top 10 list of emblematic South American endangered species:

#1 Black-Headed Spider Monkey

black spider monkey endangered animal

Scientific Name: Ateles fusciceps

The Black-Headed Spider Monkey is the most endangered animal in South America. It resides in humid tropical and subtropical forested areas between 100 and 1,700 meters above sea level. There are approximately 1.2 monkeys per square kilometer.

They consist of two subspecies:

  1. Ateles fusciceps fusciceps 
  2. Ateles fusciceps rufiventris 

A. f. rufiventris can live up to 2,000 to 2,500 meters above sea level in deciduous, tropical, and rain forests. The black-headed spider monkey belongs to relatively large New World monkeys. 

The head and body’s size, except the tail, is usually between 40 and 55 cm. The length of the opposable tail ranges from 70 to 85 cm. Males weigh 9 kg on average, while females weigh 7,5 kg. The weight of the brain is roughly 114.7 g.

The black-headed spider monkey is terrestrial and active during the day. It travels by trekking and branching. Females may mingle with a male for as long as three days before mating or mate with multiple males.

The life cycle ranges from 226 to 232 days. The newborn is carried on its mother’s back for 16 weeks before being nursed at 20 months. Females attain sexual maturity at 51 months, while males become sexually mature at 56 months. The mothers produce a litter of offspring every two to three years.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the black-headed spider monkey as threatened due to an approximate loss of more than half of the overall population over 45 years (2018-2063), resulting from illegal poaching and human invasion of its habitat.

#2 Floreana Mockingbird

Floreana Mockingbird endangered animal

Scientific Name:  Mimus trifasciatus

The Floreana mockingbird is the second most endangered animal in South America. It measures 25 to 28 cm in length. Males weigh 66 g on average, while females weigh around 60 g. 

When fully grown, it still has a petite appearance: faint supercilium, dark patches on and below the eyes, and white cheekbones. Their head, upperparts, and tail are all grayish brown, with only a few darkened striations. 

Their pubescent hair is whitish, with a dark spot on the corner of the breast and faint patches on the chest and flanks. Two noticeable white bars are present on the folded wing. The adolescent mimics the adult; however, its body is much more streaked.

The Floreana mockingbird was common on Floreana Island but had become obsolete by 1888 already. You can now observe this mockingbird on two small islands off the shore of Floreana, Campeón, and Gardner-near-Floreana. The islands sustain sparse vegetation across their beaches, arid scrub with succulents, and a few more plants inland.

The IUCN classified the Floreana mockingbird as Vulnerable species in 1994. It was recategorized as Critically Endangered in 2008 and then Endangered in 2017. 

Experts blame rats, rodents, felines, dogs, and farm animals for eliminating this species of mockingbirds from Floreana in 1888. The population on the two tiny islands has varied with the occurrence or absence of El Nino events, but it is estimated to be more than 250 individuals currently and stable.

#3 Mountain Viscacha

Mountain Viscacha endangered animal

Scientific Name:Lagidium ahuacaense

Mountain viscacha is the third most endangered animal in South America. It is a rodent that lives in southern Ecuador. It was discovered in 2005 and formally described in 2009, more than 500 miles northeast of the closest previously identified population of mountain viscachas in central Peru.

L. ahuacaense is a medium-sized animal that resembles a rat with wooly gray-brown fur and a long tail. A stripe of black hair runs down the middle of the back. The dark brown mystacial whiskers above the mouth and eyes are heavy and prolonged. Its undersides are creamy white, and the furred forefoot is brown, much shorter than the hindfoot.

Only one known population lives in the mountainous habitats of Cerro El Ahuaca, an unpopulated granite mountain in southern Ecuador, and only a few dozen individuals remain. They are one of the most endangered animals in South America. 

Fires used to maintain crop fields in the area frequently spiraled out of control and severely damaged vast parts of the viscacha’s habitat. Additionally, grazing cattle pose a threat to the species. Although the species is unknown to the locals and not hunted, the discoverers proposed that it be listed as threatened with extinction.

#4 Magdalena River Turtle

Magdalena River Turtle endangered animal

Scientific Name: Podocnemis lewyana

Magdalena River turtles are the fourth most endangered animal in South America. They are sexually dimorphic. Males and females have a shell resembling shield-like plates that are tough and primarily brown. 

Males have brownish-gray face scales, whereas females have red-brown head scales. Adult males weigh 1.5 kg and have an exoskeleton length of 25 cm. Females, on average, weigh 5.7 kg and have an exoskeleton length of 33 cm.

The species primarily feeds on plants but sometimes switches to opportunistic insectivorous conduct. Juveniles occasionally engage in piscivorous behavior. Their average life expectancy in the wild is 10-15 years.

The IUCN classified the species as “Critically Endangered” in 2015, making it the most victimized species in the Podocnemididae family and one of the most endangered in South America. Their population has declined by over 80% in less than 25 years.

Habitat obliteration, environmental damage, over-harvesting, commercialization, hydro-meteorological changes caused by electricity generation facilities, and global warming are all attributed to the decline.

While early conservation efforts were either ineffective or rarely enforced, research has recently been reemerged to determine the most effective strategies.

#5 Rio Branco Antbird

Scientific Name: Cercomacra carbonaria

The Rio Branco antbird is a lean, long-tailed bird residing on river islands and dense gallery forests in northern South America and extreme southwestern Guyana.

The male birds are primarily black, with white tail feathers and white scalloping on the wings. On the other hand, females have brownish-gray top parts, with a black tail and a white throat streaked with black.

It prefers to remain hidden in thick vine tangles in the treetops and midstory. Here they gently nudge slowly about in groups, looking for arthropods.

They have a characteristic two-noted song in a series of 3-5 phrases, with hiccupping impact; analogous to the Gray Antbird song, but higher-pitched, quicker, and less hoarse.

This species, which has a minute range and a moderately small population, has been elevated to “Threatened Species” and are considered one of South America’s most endangered animals.

Sadly, this bird’s forecast is not looking too bright. Because of potential land clearing in the Amazon basin its community will decrease incredibly quickly over the following three generations as a result of: land deforestation for cattle ranching and soy manufacturing, which will occur by road network advancement.

#6 Daggernose Shark

Scientific Name: Isogomphodon oxyrhynchus

The daggernose shark is a cartilaginous fish. It was once found in the subsurface tropical waters of the central western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching from Venezuela to northern Brazil, offering it one of the shortest ranges of any elasmobranch species. 

You can no longer find this shark in regions of Brazil where it was once prevalent. Recent statistics from the rest of the organisms’ spectrum are meager, earning it a place on South America’s list of the most endangered animals.

The nutritional and feeding behavior of the daggernose shark is unknown. Still, some studies indicate that the species feeds on sea creatures such as clupeids, sciaenids, sardines, clams, and croakers. 

Because of their small eyes and long snout, it is a widespread perception that the species tends to rely more extensively on sense organs in the snout than on its visual acuity when scouting in turbid waters.

Male daggernose sharks live to be about 12 years old, while females live to become about 20 years old. Female daggernose sharks give birth to litters of 3 to 7 pups every other year. Pupping tends to happen in South America during the monsoon season (January to June) after a year’s gestation period.

Commercial fishing operating across the daggernose shark’s range is the primary threat. The species was listed as critically endangered under the Endangered Species Act by NOAA Fisheries in 2017.

#7 Jaguar

jaguar endangered animal south america

Scientific Name: Panthera onca

This is the sole surviving member of the Panthera genus native to the Americas. It’s the biggest cat native to the Americas, the world’s third-largest, with a natural size of up to 1,8 m and a mass of up to 158 kg. 

Its coat is distinguished by pale yellow to tan fur, surrounded by spots that transform into rosettes on the sides. However, some individuals have a melanistic black coat. 

The jaguar’s mighty bite enables it to perforate turtle and tortoise shells and use an extraordinary killing technique: it attacks the skull of mammalian prey in between ears to deliver a deadly blow to the nervous system.

The jaguar is at risk of extinction because of habitat destruction and segmentation, unauthorized killing in retaliation for farm animals’ depredation, and illegal trade in jaguar anatomical structures. 

The IUCN Red List has listed it as Near Threatened since 2002, as the jaguar population has likely declined by 20-25% since the mid-1990s. 

Land clearing is a significant threat to jaguars throughout their range. The Argentine pampas, Mexico’s arid grasslands and the southwestern United States experienced the most significant rate of habitat loss.

Conservation efforts revolve around educating ranch owners and encouraging environmental conservation. Tourism activity setups to generate public interest in charming animals like the jaguar and generate income for wildlife conservation are significant steps to conserve their population. If such measures aren’t taken, they will remain one of South America’s most endangered animals and become extinct.

The large amount of habitat space they require is a substantial concern in jaguar ecotourism. Suppose the tourism industry aids in jaguar wildlife management, increasing its population. Some consideration must be given to how we will preserve existing ecosystems or establish new ones sufficient to accommodate more large numbers of jaguars.

#8 Giant Otters

giant otter endangered animal

Scientific Name: Pteronura brasiliensis

Giant otters are diurnal – extremely interactive mammals – that live in family groups of 2-20 individuals. They are the eighth most endangered animal in South America. A family comprises a mated couple and their progeny from several generations, with a habitat of 12 square kilometers. 

Family members clarify a space of up to 50 square meters next to a river for their residence, reasonably close to feeding sites. They form extensive burrows beneath fallen logs and build one to five communal restrooms along the boundary of the building. 

The scent from the animals’ anal glands then marks the formed territory. If trespassers break into the family’s territorial waters, the mum and dad will safeguard it and their family members. Otters are generally peaceful and mutually supportive in groups.

This species is monogamous, with couples staying together for life. Findings of captive animals have majorly demonstrated reproductive behavior. Although some mating occurs throughout the year, the breeding season peaks from late spring to summer. Pregnancy lasts 65-70 days, and the altricial young are born between late August and early October.

The general significant issues to the Giant otter are habitat division, loss, and environmental damage. This is so because the regions where they reside are deteriorated and severely damaged by deforestation, mineral extraction, and damming. 

Overhunting for its precious fur until the late 1970s posed severe threats to the giant otters. Although not for fashion, the criminal killing continues. Frequently it is fishermen who see Giant otters as a threat to their catch.

#9 The South American Tapir

tapir endangered animal

Scientific Name: Tapirus terrestris

The South American tapir is the ninth most endangered animal in South America. It inhabits mangrove swamps, tropical forests, shrublands, and lagoons throughout Northern and Central South America.

In the wild, Tapirs can live for 31 to 34 years. South American Tapirs are herbivores that primarily consume leaves and fruits. They use their long and flexible clutching snout to access food, detect aromas, and avoid danger, such as jaguars, when immersed in water.

Tapirs typically live independently and do not have a frequently used group name.

They mate in April, May, or June, and sexual maturity occurs in their third year. Females have a 13-month gestation period and generally have one progeny every two years.

A baby South American tapir weighs nearly 7 kilograms and weans for approximately six months.

The South American tapir population is declining due to illegal hunting for meat and hides and ecological degradation. T. Terrestris is widely regarded as an endangered species of animals, having been designated as such by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 2, 1970. 

However, it faces a much lower threat of extinction than the other four tapir species.

#10 Pink Amazon Dolphin

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Scientific Name: Inia geoffrensis

The Amazon Pink Dolphin, also known as the boto, is the tenth most endangered animal in South America. It can be found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. 

Botos are the most massive of the four river dolphin lifeforms, reaching lengths of up to 2,5 m and weighing up to 200 kg. They have solid pectoral fins, tail flukes, and a modified hump instead of a long tail.

In courtship displays directed at trying to impress females, male botos surpass the water with branches or vegetation retained in their mouths or even hold live turtles aloft. Females have one calf after an 11 to 15-month pregnancy. The young ones are nursed for over a year, sticking close to their mothers.

Humans are the sole hazard to Amazon River Dolphins, who poach them for catfish bait or trap them in gill nets. 

It is a common freshwater marine mammal with a population estimated in the hundreds to thousands. Nevertheless, it is categorized as vulnerable in certain places due to reservoirs that fragment and endanger specific populations of dolphins and other risks such as river and lake pollution.

The Final Say:  

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South American wildlife includes many animals risking extinction, but numerous outstanding environmental protection programs are also in place. 

These projects aspire to repair the damage caused by human intervention and regenerate the rainforest with previously dwindling species. So far, the programs have been largely successful; we can only hope this trend continues and the list of the most endangered animals in South America becomes shorter and shorter.

Thank you for reading this article and learning more about South America’s most endangered animals! To further expand your knowledge on endangered animals, read up on the 19 Most Endangered Amphibians.