Animals & Wildlife in Peru: A Detailed Guide
With its array of geographical regions, ecosystems and climate types, it should come as no surprise that Peru is a country with a wealth of different flora and fauna. From the tops of the Andes Mountains to the coast, desert and even the jungle, there are plenty of different places to encounter an array of different Peruvian animals.
Join us as we roam the length and breadth of this unique country in search of its most fascinating native species.
Animals that live in the Andes Mountains of Peru
One of the most well-known animals of Peru would be the alpaca. Often confused with the llama (they are pretty similar), this native Peruvian animal is often found in the Andes Mountains regions of Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile as well.
This Peruvian mammal has long, woolly fleece, which very much resembles wool and is both durable and silkily soft. Alpacas have long been bred for this fibre, with the indigenous people of the Andes have used this material for thousands of years.
You’ll most likely spot it being used to make Andean clothing (which you can also buy as a memorable Peruvian souvenir), such as scarves, sweaters, ponchos and other textiles worn by the indigenous population and on sale in local markets.
Another important animal in Peru and the Andes is the vicuña. Although you’ve likely never heard of them, vicuñas are actually the wild ancestor of the alpaca, the latter of whom were domesticated thousands of years ago for their fibre.
Incidentally, the vicuña is also the national animal of Peru, appearing on the Peruvian coat of arms and reflecting how valuable and important this camelid was to the Inca: only royalty was allowed to wear garments made from its fleece.
Probably the most widely-known Peruvian animal is the llama, another camelid related to both alpacas and vicuñas, but conventionally used as a Peruvian pack animal in the Andes due to their stamina at high altitudes. The llama was historically important in Peru to the Inca, as it helped them carry loads along the Inca roads that covered the extensive territory of the empire.
Those lucky eough to visit Machu Picchu will, more often than not, be lucky enough to get a picture with a llama, as they roam the terraces of this Inca citadel. However, if you want a guaranteed sighting of a llama in Peru, they’re a common animal to see in Cusco, where local women dressed in traditional Andean clothing wander through the streets posing for photos – for a small fee, of course.
The Andean condor
Another very famous animal of Peru is the Andean condor. With a wingspan of about three metres, this large bird is most often sighted in the Colca Canyon and is the national symbol of Peru as well as Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador as well.
You can see its importance in pre-Columbian mythology of that region in the fact that the bird has been used in Andean Art since 2500 BCE.
A traditional festival that still proves the importance of the Andean condor to indigenous people is the once controversial Yawar Fiesta, where the immense power of the Andean condor was displayed. During this celebration, the bird was tied to the back of a bull, with the bird attempting to kill the bull – both a a tradition and a performance piece which showcased the Andes conquering the Spanish. Luckily, no live Condors are now used in this festivity.
The Andean mountain cat
A very rare animal from Peru is the Andean mountain cat, a feline that inhabits the High Andes, including the mountains around Cusco such as Machu Picchu. It’s about the size of a normal house cat with long, dark grey fur and it’s very similar in appearance to the pampas cat, which has made it difficult for scientists to obtain accurate estimations of population size.
Unfortunately, it’s thought that numbers of Andean mountain cats have been steadily decreasing, meaning it’s now listed as endangered IUCN Red List.
Peru jungle animals
The Amazon river dolphin
One of perhaps the strangest of the Peruvian animals is the Amazon river dolphin, aka the pink river dolphin.
Adults of this species of dolphin acquire a strange pink tinge, which makes them a truly unique animal to see in Peru. You’ll find them in the Amazon Jungle living in small pods of up to eight dolphins and inhabiting the main channels of the rivers during the dry season – making this great time to explore the jungle.
The harpy eagle
Although it might come as a surprise, another common animal in the Peruvian jungle is the harpy eagle, the largest bird of prey found in the Amazon, which inhabits lowland rainforests in the Amazon basin.
Monitoring efforts in the Madre de Dios region of Peru have been helping to protect this unique native Peruvian animal and the UNESCO-listed Manu National Reserve is a good place to see this and other Peruvian jungle animals. The reserve contains a whopping 800 bird species, as well as 200 types of mammals.