The Endangered Species of Costa Rica

Discover the most endangered species in Costa Rica and how you can help to secure their future!

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Contributed by Wendy Rubiano

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Costa Rica has devoted a large part of its budget to conserve and protect its flora and fauna. More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s lands is protected in the form of wildlife refuges, national parks, national and biological reserves, marine sanctuaries and conservation areas.

That being said, efforts have not been able to prevent deforestation and illegal hunting which has already caused some animals to get extinct. Other situations such as road accidents and electrocutions have been causing reason for concern, which in turn puts some species at risk to become part of the list of extinct species in Costa Rica.

Allow me to present a list of 10 species that are currently in danger of extinction, what dangers these species are facing today and

how you can help to keep them on the list of Costa Rica’s abundant biodiversity!

Squirrel Monkey (Tití)

Saimiri oerstedii

Family: Cebidae

Squirel MonkeyMonkey SquirrelThe Squirrel Monkey is the smallest monkey that inhabits our primary and secondary forests. Their favorite foods are insects and berries.

Its body measures approximately 75 cm, of which the tail takes up 40 cm. The squirrel monkey inhabiting the Osa Peninsula is yellowish reddish and usually with black around the face, a prehensile tail (which allows them to hold on different surfaces) and elongated dark coloration. The monkeys that inhabit the Manuel Antonio National Park, tend to be grey-crowned.

The most threatened squirrel monkey inhabits the area of ​​Parrita, Quepos near Manuel Antonio and Potrero Grande of Buenos Aires. The other subspecies is found in the south of the country, mainly in Osa near Puerto Jiménez.


Deforestation and illegal pet trade.

Because of their charming and cute appearance, they are interesting species for those who seek to have wild animals as pets. This species is included in Appendix I of the Convention for the Traffic of Species in Danger of Extinction (CITES).


Tapirus bairdii

Family: Tapiridae

TapirCorcovado National Park Tours TapirThe Danta (or Tapir) has large foot prints can easily be spotted and its excrement is similar to horse dung. Its diet is based on leaves, fruits, buds, and seeds but little is known about their eating habits.

It is the largest of the mammals to inhabit the country. The body is robust and the legs are strong with large hooves. Their fur is sparse, brown in color on the back and sides and light brown on the belly. The young have white spots on their sides that disappear once they reach maturity.

The upper lip of the Tapir is extremely flexible and long, similar to a trunk. An adult tapir can reach the weight of 150 to 300 kilos. They are shy in nature and difficult to observe in the wild. In spite of its size, it can move with relative ease within the forest. Dantas can be very aggressive when it comes to protecting their young. They are considered a holy animal and important deity for the BriBri people – one of the most important indigenous cultures left in Costa Rica.

The Danta can be found spreading from Panama to Veracruz, Mexico. In Costa Rica they inhabit the Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste, the Arenal-Monteverde Forest, the San Ramón Forest Reserve, the Braulio Carrillo National Park, Corcovado, Tortuguero, and the Amistad Biosphere Reserve.


Its main predators are the jaguar and humans – the latter through destroying its habitat and poaching.


Panthera once

Family: Felidae

Jaguar EndangeredTalamancaThe body of the Jaguar is robust and the legs are short. They are very muscular and armed with strong claws, a short tail, and small round ears. Its hair is short and yellow with spots in the form of black rosettes. Adult males can weigh from 64 to 100 kilos and females from 45 to 80 kilos, making the Jaguar the largest of the carnivores that inhabit the country. The Jaguar has excellent sight and smell and often hunts near rivers. Although it seems to prefer feasting on peccaries and mountain hogs, it also feeds on tepescuintles, guatuzas, deer, monkeys, birds, fish, turtles, iguanas and other animals.

Its habitat ranges from the South of the United States, through Central and South America to the north of Argentina.

Originally, Jaguars inhabited the entire Costa Rican territory from the lowland forests to the páramos of the Talamanca mountain range. Currently, you can find them in the Guanacaste National Park, in the forest complex Arenal-Monteverde, some wooded areas near the border with Nicaragua, Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado, Corcovado and the Biosphere Reserve La Amistad in the Cordillera de Talamanca. Spotting them is very difficult due to their shy and distrustful nature.


Poaching and the destruction of their habitat by fires and deforestation.

Geoffrey Spider monkey

Ateles geoffroyi

Family: Cebidae

Spider monkeytop 6 hotels in tortuguero costa rica riverThe Geoffrey Spider Money uses a complex system of vocalizations to communicate with other members of the herd or warn others that a certain part of the forest is already occupied. Its diet includes fruits, tender leaves, flowers, insects and small vertebrates. Newborns can be nursed until they reach one year of age.

It has a small head and its body is thin with long limbs. The length of the tail exceeds that of the head and body put together. Adult spider monkeys can weigh a little over eight kilos. The color of the hair varies from one sub-species to another and can range from a blonde or reddish coloration to a dark almost black color.

Spider monkeys are diurnal and totally arboreal. It moves quickly between the branches of the trees using its long limbs and tail.

The original distribution of this species in Costa Rica covered all types of forests from sea level to an altitude of 2000 meters. Currently, these monkeys can be seen in the National Parks of Santa Rosa, Rincon de la Vieja, Palo Verde, Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado, Corcovado and the Biosphere Reserve La Amistad.


Its predators are the harpy eagle and the human. Spider monkeys are hunted for the unique flavor of their flesh.

Additionally, deforestation is destroying their natural habitat.

Howler Monkey

Alowatta palliate

Family: Cebidae

Howler MonkeyRincon de la vieja MonkeyA herd of Howler Monkeys is composed of five to thirty members, of which a quarter are males, half are adult females and the rest are babies. The Howler monkey’s main sources of food are leaves, tender branches, flowers and fruits, a variety of trees such as the ojoche, medlar, mountain almond, jobo, etc.

Its head is large and adult males have a silky beard. Its body is heavy and compact and can reach a size of 60 to 62 cm, with weights ranging between 15 and 25 pounds. The Howler Monkey’s color ranges from bright black to reddish brown.

They are easily recognized in the field by their strong bellows, a product of the formation of the hyoid bone, which acts as a sounding board.

Howler Monkeys inhabit the South of Paraguay to the North of Guatemala. In Costa Rica, they can manly be found in Guanacaste from sea level to an altitude of 1,600 meters. They live in primary or secondary forests where they spend their entire lives in the treetops. Each herd occupies a certain area from 500 to 4000 meters in diameter, depending on the available food resources.


Large wild cats and humans. Deforestation causes the loss of its natural habitat and threatens its existence.

White-faced Monkey

Cebus capucinus

Family: Cebidae

Capuchin LegendsBraulio-Carrillo-ForestThe intelligent and agile Cariblanco is the monkey that is most easily observed in protected wild areas. It enjoy feeding on fruits such as guava, fig, jocote, guanacaste, guarumo, “Indio Pelado”, ceiba and cornizuelo. It also eats insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, butterfly larvae and beetles. Sometimes it includes other animals such as lizards and small mammals in its diet.

This monkey is also known as a Capuchin monkey because the color of its coat looks like the habit of a Capuchin monk. Around the face, neck, chest, shoulders, and part of the arms, the hair is cream or yellowish, while the rest of the fur is black. Its face is pink and it has a long black prehensile tail. Together, the head and body add about 45 cm in length. The tail is longer than the body. The white-faced monkey weighs between 1.4 and 4.3 kg. Males are larger than females.

They are active during the day and travel in noisy groups, sometimes up to more than 30 individuals.

The Cariblanco monkey inhabits different ecosystems such as the dry tropical forest, the humid forest, the mature secondary forest, and the mangrove. It can be seen in national parks like that of Guanacaste, Palo Verde, Santa Rosa, Manuel Antonio, Carara, Braulio Carrillo, Tortuguero and Corcovado. Outside of Costa Rica, it is found from Honduras to Colombia and Ecuador.


Deforestation is their main threat. Because of its intelligence, this monkey is also hunted to be traded as a pet.


Leopardus pardalis

Family: Felidae

ocelotPalo Verde Tour SavannaThe Ocelot is of medium size, has a small head and short tail. Its short fur is matte gray with strong brown spots bordered by a black band. The spots on the back and neck are elongated. The tail has black spots and the tip is entirely black. The ears are black with a large white spot. Some specimens can weigh up to 12 kilos.

The Ocelot hunts on the forest floor, although it is a skillful climber. Its diet includes a large number of small and medium-sized mammals, birds, iguanas, frogs, fish, and turtles. Occasionally they also attack domestic animals such as pigs and poultry. Ocelots are nocturnal and during the day they rest quietly in the high branches of the trees.

They are found from the South of the United States all the way to Paraguay. In Costa Rica, they can only be spotted in large wooded areas such as Guanacaste National Park, Palo Verde, the Arenal-Monteverde complex, Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado, Corcovado, the Biosphere Reserve of Friendship, Tenorio, Rincón de la Vieja, and Braulio Carrillo.


The loss of habitat due to deforestation and illegal hunting for its fur.

Giant Ant Eater

Myrmecophaga tridactyla

Family: Myrmecophagidae

Anteater Costa RicaPalo Verde Costa Rica AnteaterAs the name suggests, the ant eater’s diet is composed mainly of ants, which it gets by breaking the nests with its powerful front claws. It has been reported that a Giant Ant Eater can move up to 11 km in a single night in search of food.

They have a long snout shaped like a tube and a thick tail, similar to that of a horse. Their legs are relatively short and the ears and eyes are very small. It has a distinctive cylindrical tongue and can reach a weight between 25 and 30 kilos. It usually defends itself by standing on its hind legs and showing the powerful front claws to his enemy.

The Giant Ant Eater is found from Guatemala, through Central and South America to Argentina. It is currently a very rare animal in Central America, including Costa Rica, where they are in imminent danger of extinction. Recently there are only reports in Corcovado and the San Ramón Forest Reserve. It inhabits tropical forests, swamps and wooded savannas.


The dangers to their existence mainly include poaching and the loss of their habitat. Sadly, the species will probably disappear from the country before we can understand its ecology and behavior.

Wild Boar

Tayassu pecari

Family: Tayassuidae

Corcovado WildlifeCorcovado RainforestThe Wild Boar is similar to a pig, with a bulky and massive head, short legs and a short tail. Its body is covered with very rough grayish fur. The nose, lips, and cheeks are white and the average length of its body is 125 cm, reaching a weight of 40 kilos. There is no difference in size between sexes. The Wild Boar loves to stay in hot and humid forests, where its favorite foods are roots, fallen fruits, herbs and insects that they find by scraping the ground with their snout, similar to that of the pig.

When faced with dog packs, which hunters use to locate them, the mountain pigs tend to stay together and attack in pairs, chasing the dogs for some time and then returning to the herd.

The Wild Boar used to live in Costa Rica from sea level to approximately an altitude of 1500 meters. Today, only a few herds survive in the Tortuguero and Corcovado National Parks. It is not known with certainty if they still inhabit the volcanoes of the Cordillera de Guanacaste.


The jaguar, and humans, who used to hunt them with dogs. People have little to no chance of observing this mammal in the wild which is also hugely affected by deforestation. They need large areas of primary forest to survive.


Trichechus manatus

Family: Trichechidae

ManateeBarra ColoradoAlthough it has some tendency towards a social life, the only continuous relationship is that of a mother to its baby, which lasts for one or two years. The manatee is a large mammal and weighs between 200 and 600 kilos. They have small eyes and rounded, full lips that hang on both sides of the mouth. Manatees are herbivores and eat a variety of underwater plants. On average they submerge for periods of 4 to 5 minutes.

They are mainly found in rivers, estuaries, and coasts from Florida to Brazil. In Costa Rica they used to be plenty in the San Juan, Sarapiquí, and San Carlos rivers, the Tortuguero Canals and the estuaries of the Gandoca region. Today, this endangered mammal is found in the Tortuguero National Park, some canals of the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge and Gandoca Manzanillo.


The only known predator to the manatee is the human. Although sharks, crocodile and other similar predators could technically eat them, they tend to reside in different waters. Water contamination due to pollution is a common threat to the manatee’s survival. They are a legally protected species in the country.

Extinction And Conservation

With the arrival of agriculture and tourism, the forests started to be cleared. Neglect, unsustainable tourism, greed and disproportionate real estate development that enriches a few and gives work to some, ultimately affect the most vulnerable amongst us: the wild animals. Fortunately, great efforts are being made to protect the remaining biodiversity that Costa Rica is still known for.

Kids Saving the Rainforest little monkey


“Organizations like Kids Saving The Rainforest offer programs that allow you to help conserve Costa Rica and preserve the natural resources.”

With the positive attitude of the government towards conservation and environmental sustainability, Costa Rica has become a conservationist’s paradise! The people of Costa Rica ensure that the diverse natural resources of the land are not destroyed and even you can help make a difference. Your help and donations provide extra support to these important programs and are invaluable to their success.

But you may be wondering… How can I help?

Kids Saving the Rainforest Planting TreesVegetable Gardens Maquenque Eco LodgeBy funding various conservation programs you can ensure that forests like those at Osa Peninsula are protected, restored and sustained for the future generations. Organizations like Kids Kids Saving The Rainforest and the Corcovado Foundation offer programs that allow you to help conserve Costa Rica and preserve the natural resources.

Help protect the natural environment by staying at the Eco Hotels! These are of significant importance to ecotourism as they make sure to respect the natural surroundings during construction and not disrupt the ecosystem, offering a valuable and meaningful experience to its guest and promoting ethical tourism practices.

You can combine valuable conservation work with a little bit of fun as well. These conservation expeditions offer volunteers the opportunity to discover the beauty of Costa Rica while working to protect it.

Next time you travel make sure the business you will be supporting, shares this mission for a bright future for Costa Rica and its wildlife!

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