Wild Side of Panama

Panama’s biodiversity is again evident when we examine the wide variety of fauna. 218 mammal species, 226 reptile species, and 164 amphibian species are endemic to Panama. 125 animal species found in Panama are found nowhere else on the planet, and 940 bird species can be found in Panama, the largest number of any Central America country.

A few of the birds that travelers to Panama might glimpse during their Panama travels, are macaws, parrots, toucans, tanagers, and raptors. Golden-headed quetzals and black-tipped cotingas can be seen in Darien National Park. The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle. A daunting predator with a two meter wingspan and weighing up to twenty lbs., the harpy eagle can carry off howler monkeys, sloths, anteaters, and capuchins in its powerful claws. Viewers can identify the harpy eagle by a broad black band across its chest with white underneath.

A Panama trip is also an ideal place for visitors looking to see a variety of primates. Some of these include squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and white-faced capuchins. Tiny Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys (many weighing in a less than one pound) are found only in one country in Central America: Panama.

Elusive jungle cats that lucky travelers may glimpse (and more will be able to examine their tracks) include jaguars, pumas, ocelots, and margays. Deforestation and development have both threatened the habitat for these animals, particularly the jaguar and puma, both of which need large areas of land to cover hunting for food. One surprising fact: these cats are excellent swimmers!

The Caribbean and Pacific Oceans will allow visitors to discover even more fascinating and foreign creatures. These include reef sharks, humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, killer and sperm whales, whale sharks and black-and-white-tip sharks, along with a wide variety of tropical fish. Sea turtles draw much attention, and 5 of the world’s 7 species are found on Panamanian beaches.

The animals on the “red” endangered species list in Panama include the jaguar, spectacled bear, scarlet macaws, and all 5 species of sea turtle. Unfortunately, tourism can add to the threat to these species in some instances. Panama has passed legislation aimed at protecting endangered species, but it often is not enforced.