Peru’s most famous national is, without doubt, Paddington Bear, whose origins in deepest, darkest Peru (and love of marmalade sandwiches) are familiar to us all. But what of the real wildlife of Peru? What kind of creatures actually live in the Amazon Basin, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, and in the Sacred Valley of the Incas?
Whether you are a serious twitcher, or just a casual bird watcher, a glimpse of the Andean condor will take your breath away. One of the largest and most impressive birds in the world, its size means you’ll have no problem spotting it with the naked eye, though a pair of binoculars or camera with a zoom lens will help you appreciate the strength and beauty of this immense member of the vulture family. A national symbol of Peru, and a prominent character in Peruvian folklore, you can see the Andean condor along the length of the Andes mountains, and soaring above Colca Canyon - twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona - on the thermals.
On the Amazon River you can board the luxury Delfin riverboat and appreciate the wildlife of the river and lagoons up close. The Amazon river dolphin, or boto, is the largest river dolphin in the world, and has a beautiful, pinkish colour. Playful creatures, they live only in freshwater habitats and frequently approach the boat. It’s possible to swim alongside them in the water, and you might also catch sight of the Amazonian manatee, or seacow.
Beneath the surface of the water are more than 5,600 species of neotropical fish, including the arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. There are plenty of types of catfish, including the 3.6m long goliath catfish, electric eels and river stingrays, bull sharks, and piranhas too. Thankfully your guides onboard the boat know just where such fish are to be found, and will advise you accordingly whether or not it’s a good idea to swim!
Either side of the river is the Amazon Rainforest, one of the richest areas of biodiversity on our planet. Peru’s tropical birds are one of the country’s major attractions, and a delight for photographers and birdwatchers alike. One of the most unusual looking birds in the Peruvian Amazon is the hoatzin, sometimes called a Canje pheasant, which lives amongst mangroves and swamps. Its unfeathered blue face is topped with a spiky mohawk of reddish feathers, and its large wings are a rich terracotta too. You’ll often hear the hoatzin before you see it: groaning, hissing and croaking. High on your bird spotting list should also be the teal and navy masked trogon, which has a pretty red chest; blue and yellow macaws; scarlet macaws; and many different species of hummingbirds. When a flock of parrots rise up into the sky, it is like a rainbow scattering in every direction, a truly unforgettable sight.
Monkeys and their antics are a perennial source of fascination and entertainment, and here Peru does not disappoint. In the Amazon Rainforest you’ll find reddish brown howler monkeys, an usual species who actually builds nests in the trees. The emperor tamarin, or Brockway monkey, sports a dashing white moustache which often reaches down to his shoulders. Graceful in their movements, and intrigued by humans, you’ll find them incredibly friendly, and they might well willingly approach you unprompted. Rather curious in appearance are the bald uakari, who live in wooded habitats close to the water. Quite rare in numbers, the uakari has a hairless red face, quite like a human, but long, luscious auburn locks of hair on the back of its head and body. Your best chances of seeing uakari in the wild are in the Amazon Basin in protected reserves.
Not a monkey exactly, but a wonderful, tree-dwelling critter nonetheless, is the Peruvian brown-throated sloth. The majority of these cuddly looking mammals are in eastern Peru, where they hang in the higher parts of the forest canopy. Baby sloths are born in the autumn, fully furred and with long, sharp set of claws.