5 Amazing Animals Unique to South America

From giant rodents to pink dolphins, here’s a look at five animals you’ll only find in South America!

Oct 3, 2023By Lauren Rey
animals unique to south america

From the Amazon Rainforest to the Andes Mountains, South America is full of amazing wildlife. Thousands of species of unique animals can be found across the South American continent. Here’s a look at a few you won’t find in the wild anywhere else!

5. Capybara

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They may be nicknamed “water pigs,” but capybaras are actually in the rodent family. In fact, they are considered the largest rodents in the world, standing up to 4 feet tall and reaching weights well over 100 pounds!

Capybaras somewhat resemble giant guinea pigs but with more aquatic features. They have webbed feet and a waterproof coat to help them navigate the ponds, rivers, and marshes they call home. Like most rodents, capybaras also have long front teeth which they use for grazing on grass, aquatic plants, and sometimes fruits and seeds.

Capybaras are found throughout South America with some of the largest populations in Brazil, Columbia, and Venezuela. While they’ve also unfortunately become popular exotic pets in recent years, the best place to see them (and leave them!) is in their native habitats in South America.

4. Llama

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While not truly considered wildlife, llamas are one of the most well-known animals found in the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. A distant cousin of camels, llamas have lived alongside humans and been domesticated for thousands of years. Some even speculate the llama may have been the very first domesticated animal.

Llamas are well-adapted to mountain life. They have thick fur to keep warm, padded feet for traversing rocks, and high levels of hemoglobin to process oxygen more efficiently at high elevations. Llamas are raised by communities across different regions of the Andes as livestock.

While it’s not uncommon to find llamas on farms around the world these days, the closest you’ll find them to being “in the wild” is in South America.

3. Green Anaconda

green anaconda
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The green anaconda, also known as the giant anaconda or water boa, is pound for pound, the largest snake in the world (by weight). These massive apex predators can reach weights of 500 pounds or more and take down large prey such as deer, capybaras, and caiman. Part of the boa family, anacondas subdue their prey by constriction.

Green anacondas are found throughout the northern rainforest regions of South America. They are most abundant in the Amazon River Basin in Brazil and the Orinoco River Basin in Colombia where they spend most of their time in the water. Their dark green spotted skin provides the perfect camouflage whether swimming in the river or slithering through the jungle.

Anacondas have inspired fear, folklore, and even Hollywood fame, however, outside of the big screen or a zoo, most people will likely never cross paths with one. If you’re looking for one of these amazing animals in the wild, you’ll need to head deep into the jungles of South America!

2. Andean Bear

andean bear
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One of the rarest bear species in the world, the Andean bear is a charismatic creature known for its glossy black fur and unique circular eye markings that resemble glasses. Thus, earning them the nickname, “the spectacled bear.” They are the only bear species found in South America.

As their name suggests, the Andean bear is found throughout the Andes Mountain region. Their range spans several countries including Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Andean bears are intelligent and will get creative when it comes to finding food. They’ve even been observed using sticks as tools. They eat a varied diet that includes fruits, plants, insects, and small mammals.

Outside of a zoo, you won’t find this special species anywhere else in the world. The Andean bear is truly one of a kind!

1. Amazon River Dolphin

amazon river dolpin
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The Amazon River dolphin, also known as the pink river dolphin, is one of the most unique dolphin species in the world. They live solely in freshwater and are known for their iconic pink color. These candy-colored cetaceans are only found in the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins.

As the largest of all freshwater dolphin species, the Amazon River dolphin can reach lengths of over 9 feet and weigh over 350 pounds. This species is believed to be extremely intelligent with a brain capacity that is 40% larger than that of humans. They also have one of the most varied diets among dolphins, consuming over 50 species of fish plus reptiles and crustaceans.

Amazon River dolphins have been featured prominently throughout history in local art and folklore. Tales of them having mystical powers and being guardians of an underwater city have loomed large over the centuries. Today, they remain a cherished species and one of the most unique animals you’ll only find in South America!

Lauren Rey
By Lauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!