Guatemala – Flora easy, Fauna Harder
The colorful sights and rich fragrances of Guatemalan flora are easy to find and enjoy, as witnessed by many of this month’s photo contest entries.
Lush bougainvillea spilling over white walls, towering cieba trees in the Highlands and mahogany in the jungles, long-stemmed roses and planters of orchids in every shade and variety, flora everywhere all year long in Guatemala’s eternal spring. Lots of familiar as well as unique fauna are around us too, but birds, fish and most animals take a keen eye and often lots of patience to spot – well, other than at the small but well-kept La Aurora zoo near the international airport, and it’s no fair going there to claim you’ve spotted and photographed wild fauna.
Guatemala’s national symbol, the quetzal, is the country’s most important bird, rare as they are. Jungle monkeys – spider, the cute hooded capuchin and the unforgettable howlers’ cries — are common among our Maya ruins but increasingly endangered by human encroachment, as are the proud toucans, which seem to have been colored with bright crayons by some young children. Many other bird and butterfly species pass through the country on their way north or south, with some sticking around to enjoy the year-round good weather, but the oro pendula and black-necked stilt belong here and nowhere else in the world. Try to find both beautiful but endangered birds before they’re gone. It’s too late to find the lakeside little Atitlán grebe, already declared extinct.
In the wetlands on both coasts Guatemala hosts lots of fascinating fauna to find and photograph, including an amazing variety of 59 frog species uniquely here. See how many you might spot, along with unique salamanders, a rare black iguana, tapir, dangerous peccary, coatimundi and several colorful snakes, including a red-white-and-black coral.
At sea we’ve seen minke and sperm whales passing along the Pacific, and dolphins playing along both coasts. We’re home to Western Caribbean coral reefs in the Atlantic, along with diminishing manatees, caiman and sea turtles. In the Highlands, dozens of species of bats flit by at sundown, seeking out their supper. On this Altiplano you’ll find porcupines, moles, shrews, agouti and several species of mice. Watch for the little Maya mouse playing in the ruins, another specie that’s only here.
And of course there are our cats. Cute but dangerous little ocelot. Spotted puma, panther, margay. The legendary jaguar. sleek and proud. Plus some canines. The ubiquitous coyote, as in much of North America beginning to move alongside us in the big city. Several unique lizards, especially brown basilisks sunning themselves along the Río Dulce alongside armadillos and slothful sloths.
Colors, sounds and smells of Guatemala’s collection of native and exotic birds, animals, insects, all our fauna, are as rich as the colorful flowers and trees of the coasts, jungles and mountains. Enjoy them all, whether you’re just a visiting exotic or a unique resident.
REVUE magazine article by Ken Veronda