Argentina’s land fauna, especially large mammals, are often nocturnal or otherwise inconspicuous, but they are a diverse lot.
The largest, most widely distributed carnivore is the secretive puma or mountain lion. The most spectacular feline, though, is the yaguareté (jaguar), limited to Misiones Province, the yungas of Jujuy and Salta, and possibly parts of the Gran Chaco. Other wild cats include the smaller Andean cat and the jaguarundi, both endangered species.
Two otters are also endangered: the long-tailed otter and the southern river otter. The only wolf is the nocturnal aguará guazú (maned wolf) of the northern wetlands; there are several species of foxes, including the threatened Argentine gray fox.
The northern subtropical forests are also home to the rarely sighted tapir, related to the horse, along with the tufted capuchin monkey and howler monkey. A much more common sight is the coatimundi, a raccoon relative. The world’s largest rodent, the carpincho (capybara) has a wide distribution from the Paraná Delta north into Corrientes and the Gran Chaco.
Wild grazing mammals include the vicuña, an endangered relative of the domestic llama and alpaca that occurs only in the northern puna. Their more widely distributed cousin, the wild guanaco, is most abundant on the Patagonian steppe but also inhabits parts of the high Andes. Domestic livestock like cattle, horses, burros, and goats are of course very common.
The South Andean huemul, a cervid that appears on Chile’s coat of arms, is the subject of a joint conservation effort between the two countries. In the mid-19th century, there were some 22,000 in both countries, but at present only about 1,000 survive in each country south of Chile’s Río Biobío because of habitat destruction, contagious livestock diseases, and unregulated hunting.
The closely related North Andean huemul inhabits the Andean northwest. The pudú is a miniature deer found in densely wooded areas on both sides of the Patagonian Andes. Farther north, the main cervids are the subtropical marsh deer and the declining pampas deer.
The northern puna is home to two noteworthy rodent species, the Andean viscacha and its smaller nocturnal cousin the short-tailed chinchilla. Inhabiting large rookeries, the former is fairly easy to spot.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The northeastern wetlands have two small species of yacaré (caimans), which ignore humans unless provoked. Ranging from the northernmost lowlands well into the pampas and beyond, several species of the deadly pit vipers known collectively as yarará (Bothrops spp.) can be aggressive. The mostly widely distributed is the yarará ñata, which reaches altitudes upward of 2,000 meters in the Sierras de Córdoba, and latitudes south of Península Valdés. They are less common in the south than in the subtropical north, however.
The amphibian rana criolla (Creole frog) is large (up to 130 millimeters in length) and meaty enough that it’s occasionally eaten.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition