Costa Rica’s endangered animals, from the majestic jaguar to the lumbering leatherback turtle, are legendary. But spotting threatened manatees, ocelots and blue macaws in the wild is a challenging blend of adventure, skilled guides, and a huge dose of luck. But in some cases, luck is on your side. And those are what I like to call Costa Rica’s “easiest-to-spot” endangered animals.
In total, Costa Rica is home to more than 250 endangered plant and animal species – some a lot easier to spot than others. These threatened species enjoy the freedom and protection afforded by the country’s vast wilds – rain forests, cloud forests, river gorges, dry forests and other important habitats. In fact, more than 25% of all Costa Rican land is national park, wildlife sanctuary, or protected reserve. So grab your binoculars, put on your hiking boots, and wander off the beaten path, and you’ll have a good chance of spotting endangered animals in their natural habitats.
Check out these beauties: three of the most commonly sighted endangered animals in Costa Rica (and where you’re most likely to find them):
1. Green Sea Turtle
These spectacular – and giant, at 300-350 pounds! – sea creatures are named for a deposit of green fat under their shell. Though they’re omnivorous during their first few months, snacking on crustaceans, worms, algae and other ocean life, adult green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are herbivorous (vegetarian). In the wild, they have a lifespan of about 80 years.
IUCN Red List: Less than 90,000 nesting female green sea turtles are estimated to live worldwide, and the species is classified as endangered.
Green Sea Turtles in Costa Rica: Head to Tortuguero, a small village and national park on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. About 22,500 nesting females choose Tortuguero every year – that’s 25% of the world’s nesting green sea turtle population – and they’re most common from June-October (best months: July & August).
2. Central American Squirrel Monkey
Known in Costa Rica as the “mono titi,” squirrel monkeys are the country’s smallest primate a just two pounds. Central American squirrel monkeys, also known as red-backed squirrel monkeys, are divided into two subspecies – Saimiri oerstedii oerstedii and Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus. They live in troops of about 20-70 monkeys, many of which are males since, unlike other New World monkeys, female squirrel monkeys, not males, leave their natal troops before reaching their first mating season.
IUCN Red List: The black-crowned Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii oerstedii) is classified as endangered. The grey-crowned Central American squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus) was once listed as critically endangered, but is now classified as endangered.
Squirrel Monkeys in Costa Rica: Costa Rica is one of the world’s last remaining habitats for the black-crowned squirrel monkey, which lives in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks. The grey-crowned squirrel monkey lives almost exclusively in Manuel Antonio.
3. American Crocodile
You might not think that a predator as large as the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) could be threatened by anything, but these powerful reptiles were once endangered and today are still considered vulnerable, thanks to habitat loss and egg poaching. Adult males can reach an imposing 13 feet long and 400 pounds, while female American crocodiles weigh in at a less intimidating 10 feet and 160 pounds. They are known their fierce and fast land “gallop,” and in water are even quicker, using their powerful tails to propel them through the water.
IUCN Red List: American crocodiles were once endangered, but were upgraded to vulnerable in 1994. Their biggest threats remain human encroachment, egg poaching, and habitat loss.
Crocodiles in Costa Rica: One of the country’s most iconic pitstops is the bridge over the Tarcoles River, a waypoint between San José and Jacó. Dozens of American crocodiles sun themselves on the riverbanks below, making for the perfect photo op.