Oaxaca is the fifth-largest state in Mexico. Situated on the southern coast, it's one of the most mountainous areas and has a year-round moderate climate. In addition to more than 30,000 plant species, there's a wide variety of animals -- some of which thrive in the wild, while others have been affected by human encroachment. The Sierra Madre ecoregion especially has many endangered species. The state of Oaxaca is defined by the diversity of wildlife and many visitors are attracted to the forests, like those north of Oaxaca City and in the Huatulco Preserve, as well as to the wetlands near Puerto Escondido.
Almost 40 percent of the native vertebrates of Mesoamerica live in Oaxaca's pine-oak forests in Sierra Norte. The loss of forest threatens the survival of these animals. The region is home to a large number of birds; common birds include goldfinches, hawks, eagles and sparrows, while this wild menagerie also includes zentzontles, known as the "bird of a thousand voices." Zentzontles, like mockingbirds, have the uncanny ability to imitate the songs and sounds of other birds.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Most of the snakes in Oaxaca are not venomous, but there are rattlesnakes and fer-de-lances (which have no warning rattle), among others. Land reptiles include gila monsters, iguanas like the edible garrobo, and the geckos or gueritas, which are of European origin. Crocodiles almost went extinct but are now being bred to repopulate the lagoons they love. There are four local species of sea turtles, like green turtles and olive ridleys, that also faced extinction and are making a comeback.
Marine life in the state of Oaxaca offers a wide variety of species. These include humpback whales, manta rays, stingrays, devil rays, octopus, dolphins, lobsters and purple snails. Oaxaca is a hot spot for sportfishing with a vast variety of fish, including marlin, sailfish, dorado, tuna, angelfish, globe fish, rooster fish, red snapper, jurel, barrel fish and pargos.
Jaguars, howler monkeys and tapirs are now fairly scarce; however, plenty of foxes, coyotes, wild boars and coatimundis still exist. A relative of the raccoon, the coatimundi's habitat extends all the way to the southwestern United States. Other mammals are thriving, such as armadillos, peccaries and bats. Bats, once symbols of worship, are now feared. Spider and howler monkeys may be rare in the rest of Mexico but may still be visible in Oaxaca. Despite the endangered status of jaguars, ocelots (Felis pardalis), margays (Leopardus wiedii) and jaguarundis or leoncillos (Felisjaguarundi) are among the less-threatened cats.
Kathleen March has been a writer for 40 years. A professor and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician, she has studied several languages and uses them for travel and research. She enjoys medieval architecture and avant-garde poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous critical journals in the U.S. and Spain.