The Llanos – South America’s Wildlife Paradise

South America is a place I’ve written about very little on this blog and honestly, I don’t know why. It’s amazingly diverse, wild, and full of remarkable mammals in some truly pristine, remote places.

When most people think of South American nature, one place comes to mind above all else: the Amazon, that enormous labyrinth of rainforest that comprises the green heart of over a third of the continent and holds one in ten known species in the world. But what we forget is that there’s so much more to this amazing continent – the paramo and pajonal of the high Andes, the extraordinary and imperiled Atlantic forests, and enormous swamps of the Pantanal. These areas hold some of the continent’s most famous and iconic species – Spectacled Bear, Jaguar, Black Caiman, Anaconda, Maned Wolf, and more. But there’s one other fascinating region that somehow slipped under the radars of biologists and ecotourists alike: the Llanos.

The Llanos (the plains in Spanish) is a massive network of marshes and tropical savannas occupying much of the border region between Venezuela and Colombia, East of the Andes Mountains. Historically inaccessible and reputed to be a lawless and unsafe area, the Llanos received very little attention until recently. With the Llanos now secure and safe to visit, faunal surveys have uncovered a huge diversity of wildlife in the region, still untouched and holding very high densities of megafauna. Since then, a series of huge cattle ranches have been managed for conservation, providing a superb example of ranching coexisting with wildlife and ecosystem preservation. Many remote areas of the Colombian and Venezuelan Llanos are now the sites of innovative conservation efforts involving enormous ranches that safeguard impressive amounts of wildlife, particularly large reptiles, mammals, and birds.

Both the diversity and density of megafauna of the Los Llanos are among the highest anywhere in South America, rivaling the famous swamps of the Pantanal in the frontier region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The Llanos is famous for its large mammals, notably globally significant populatins of Giant Anteater, Capybara, White-tailed Deer, and Brazilian Tapir. Remote areas of the Llanos such as Hato el Cedral host numerous Jaguars and Pumas. Alongside these impressive species live  nearly 100 other mammal species, including endemics such as the Llanos Long-nosed Armadillo, small cats such as Ocelot and Jaguarundi, Pink River Dolphins, and primates such as Weeper Capuchin and Venezuelan Red Howler Monkey. The Llanos also hosts amazing bird life, with some stunning species such as the Sunbittern, Jabiru, and the unbelievably red, restricted-range Scarlet Ibis.

The Llanos is also known for its reptiles. This labyrinth of marshy plains and palm savannas is the stronghold for the Critically Endangered Orinoco Crocodile, one of the world’s rarest and least known crocodilians. It’s also home to the marvellous Mata Mata, an alien-looking wonder restricted to the Amazon and Orinoco Basins. Last, but not least, the region is home to monster Anacondas – some of the largest specimens ever recorded, some growing to over 5.5 m long!

So next time you’re looking to read a little about nature, search for the little-known and under-appreciated too. You might be amazed by what you find!