Best wildlife experiences in the Americas

From the Brazilian Pantanal to Yellowstone, the world’s oldest national park, these are the greatest wildlife encounters in the Americas.

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

The Pantamal, Brazil

Approximately the same size as the UK, the Pantanal was a relatively quiet, forgotten backwater of wetlands and tropical forests in the centre of Brazil until the 21st century. Then photographers and scientists discovered that it was a brilliant location for jaguar encounters, and suddenly it was the centre of a wildlife-watching boom.

For Latin America’s biggest cat, there really is nowhere as good, and of course there are plenty of other species, including capybaras (the world’s largest rodent), caimans and coatis, to look out for while waiting for the big cats to make an appearance.

 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, USA

America’s Greater Yellowstone region is a geological and biological hotspot.

The world’s oldest national park, founded in 1872, sits on a subterranean supervolcano – hence the outpourings of the geyser Old Faithful and the mountainous landscape. But it is Yellowstone’s reintroduced wolf packs that are the big draw.

Head to Lamar Valley to track the bison and elk herds that lure the hungry predators, or Hayden Valley, where they’re joined by grizzly bears and coyotes.

 

Monarch butterflies, Mexico

Every autumn, some 300 million monarch butterflies head south for the fir forests of upland Mexico.

Between December and February, trees and the forest floor become carpeted in the myriad monarchs, and here they mate, lay their eggs and die, the next generation assured. It’s widely considered one of the most extraordinary wildlife spectacles.

Their life history is no less amazing – they will migrate to the USA and even southern Canada in the springtime, breeding several times before their third- or even fourth-generation descendants make the journey back to Mexico as northern latitudes begin to chill.

 

Amazon river dolphins, Peru

The boto, as it’s known locally, has the dubious honour of being the only dolphin that possesses a double chin, thanks to its uniquely flexible neck. In fact, with its extravagantly elongated snout, vestigial dorsal fin, pink complexion and bulbous forehead, it’s a curious caricature of a cetacean.

Despite being probably the most numerous of the world’s river dolphins, sightings in the murky waters of the Amazon and Orinoco are elusive. So if you’re determined to see one of these remarkable creatures in the flesh, then a trip to Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru is your best bet.

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