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The Natural Environment

Animals

South America, Central America, the lowlands of Mexico, and the West Indies may be classified as a single zoogeographic region usually called the Neotropical Region. Fauna is characterized by variety and a singular lack of affinity with the fauna of other continents, including North America north of the Mexican Plateau. Found throughout are families of mammals absolutely confined to the region, including two unique species of monkey, bloodsucking bats, and many unusual rodents. The region has only one kind of bear, the spectacled bear; no horses or related animals, aside from one species of tapir; and no ruminants, except lamoids (members of the camel family), which include alpacas, llamas, and vicunas. Also characteristic of the continent are jaguar, peccary, giant anteater, and coati. Birds display still greater isolation and singularity. About 23 families and about 600 genera of exclusively Neotropical birds occur, as well as the greater part of other important families, such as those of the hummingbirds (500 species), tanagers, and macaws, together with a great variety of sea fowl. The largest birds include the rhea, condor, and flamingo. Reptiles include boas and anacondas; iguanas, caimans, and crocodiles are found in many areas. Freshwater fish are varied and abundant. Regional exclusiveness also characterizes insects and other invertebrates. On the whole, South American fauna is more local and distinct than that of any continent other than Australia; probably more than four-fifths of its species are restricted to its zoogeographic boundaries. The Galapagos Islands are the habitat of reptiles and birds that are unknown elsewhere, including the Galapagos giant tortoise, Darwin's finches, and the Galapagos penguin.

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