Sandwiched between the giants of the continent, Argentina to the south, Brazil to the east and Bolivia to the north, Paraguay has become ‘South America’s forgotten corner’. Centuries of political instability, poor infrastructure and a general fear of the unknown have led to the country becoming seriously under-watched in wildlife terms, a trend that has continued into the modern day, even though the country is now one of the friendliest, cheapest, safest and most traditional on the continent. Ironically, this neglect at the hands of travellers and researchers alike today renders Paraguay amongst the most exciting places to watch wildlife in South America. Little is known about the country’s avifauna, and regular birders are so few in numbers that every trip brings with it the promise of new and exciting discoveries.
Located in the heart of the continent where five major biomes meet, this compact country offers the possibility to rack up a large list in a short trip and without having to spend hours on the road. Though there are no country endemics, Paraguay is packed with regional endemics. This is the place to go to see threatened local specialities such as White-winged Nightjar, Ochre-breasted Pipit, Vinaceous Amazon, Black-fronted Piping-Guan and Saffron-cowled Blackbird, which have all but disappeared from the rest of their respective ranges.
For many visitors the desolate Chaco is the big draw, a thorny, dusty region that remains the best place to see large mammals on the continent – everything from Jaguar and Tapir to the ‘living fossil’ Chaco Peccary, a creature known only from fossil remains until its remarkable discovery in the Paraguayan Chaco in 1976. The eastern part of the Chaco is a humid region that actually forms part of the Pantanal, difficult to get to but unlike the Brazilian Pantanal unspoilt by the excesses of tourism. Famed for vast flocks of water birds that gather in the flooded palm savannahs here, it is also one of the world’s most reliable sites for the elusive Giant Otter.
Most of the human population lives in eastern Paraguay – the Orient – where infrastructure is rather better. However more people means more pressure on natural habitats and Paraguay is no different from anywhere else in South America when it comes to loss of habitat. That said eastern Paraguay still harbours large blocks of largely unexplored Atlantic Forest, amongst the most endangered habitats on earth and with extraordinarily high levels of regional endemism. The Bare-necked Bellbird, Paraguay’s national bird remains numerous here, and other spectacular and rare Atlantic Forest endemics that can be surprisingly easy to find include Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets and Helmeted Woodpecker – a bird so little known that it was until recently considered South America’s equivalent of the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker!
The northern Orient constitutes the southern extension of the vast Cerrado region, the great South American savannas. This is a great place to seek out mysterious local specialities such as Cock-tailed Tyrant (still common in many areas), Reiser’s Tyrannulet, Planalto Foliage-Gleaner and Paraguay’s biggest draw the endangered White-winged Nightjar. Of the three known localities for this species on earth, two are found within the country’s boundaries making it the best and easiest place to see this sought after species.
Travel around Paraguay can be difficult, public transport links the major urban areas but off the beaten track you will need your own 4×4 vehicle to get around. Furthermore much of the country’s territory is in private hands requiring prior written permission to visit. With so few tourists accommodation, away from the major cities, is basic whilst the chances of bumping into another tourist away from the capital city are extremely slim – which all adds up to an adventurous and exciting experience. To get the most out of your visit it is recommended that you visit with an expert guide. However with a modern English-language field guide now in production and more and more people beginning to see Paraguay as a new and exciting eco-tourism destination, the future looks bright both for Paraguay and its spectacular wildlife!
Major Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™