Animal Watcher's Guide

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A Tropical Forest Guide

Hundreds of exotic bird species, jaguars, cougars, margays, tapirs, kinkajous, sloths and iguanas; the list goes on and on and on. Who wouldn’t want to get a glimpse of these exotic creatures, and all in their natural habitat? But, don’t get too frustrated if, on your first few visits to the tropical rainforest you fail to experience or observe any of these animals. Your first thought is likely to be, with all this lush vegetation, where are all the colorful exotic animals they show in the guide books. Rest assured; a great diversity of life forms do inhabit the tropical rainforest, but as you can imagine their very survival greatly depends on how successful they are in avoiding the attention of predators, which definitely includes humans.

Before rushing off on a sightseeing tour through the rainforest do your homework. Study a few specialist guidebooks that explain the animals you’re hoping to observe and familiarize yourself with the characteristics that are used to identify them, such as color, shape, and behavior.

Establish the best time, day or night, when they are most active and more likely to be observed. Bring along a good pair of binoculars, as they are essential for viewing wildlife that make their home high up in the canopy ceiling. If there’s a chance to charter a boat for lake or river tours, take advantage of the opportunity; they are always worth the investment. Always notify someone of your intentions: where you’ll be, arrival time and when you plan to return. It is always a good idea to carry water, insect repellent, flashlight, sunscreen, umbrella or rain poncho, and a hat. Also, consider an anti-venom snake kit, but make sure you know how to dispense it.

Safety in the rainforest is always a must, so always be aware of your surroundings since here, snakes do slither (and can be quite poisonous), insects do bite, and animals may (not usually) become aggressive. Look before touching, stepping, sitting, or leaning. Check the area ahead for slippery rocks, mud, fallen trees, ants and snakes. Then move forward while you search for animals in the canopy. Constantly shift your gaze. Look ahead before just randomly pursuing a bird, as this is an easy way to get lost or inadvertently step close or on a snake.

Along habitat edges next to rivers, beaches, open fields, roads, and trail heads are your best bets for wildlife viewing. During the dry season, deciduous forests drop their leaves, providing a better opportunity for canopy viewing and potential wildlife sightings and water sources are also a good bet since their frequented by thirsty animals. Search for colors, shapes, and movements that stick out and don’t appear to belong in the overall ‘flow’ of the vegetation.

Always be on the lookout for certain small and easily missed signs that point to the presence of animals or birds in the forest. Slight movements, things rustling or dropping from the forest canopy and inexplicable noises can all be signs that an animal is in close proximity. Parrots, monkeys, or sloths are often the cause of leaves or seeds dropping from above. Fruits, nuts, seek husks, or leaf parts left on the trail can mean a food tree is nearby and perhaps being utilized by many animals or birds in the area. Monkeys, sloths and anteaters often appear as large, dark shapes in tree crevices. What appears as a green hanging stick or branch could actually be a snake or the tail of numerous species of lizards or iguanas. A large log on the river could really be a crocodile or cayman. Rotted trees are often home to amphibians, insects, fungi, and mosses. Holes in trees can often be found with bird’s nests in them.

With a little research, as well as following a few simple tips and rules, you will quickly understand the allure of experiencing the forests of Costa Rica and all they have to offer. It could also be the difference between having just a mediocre adventure or one you’ll remember for a lifetime.