The botanical exploration of Bolivia during the last two centuries did not leave a botanical legacy in the country. Only towards the end of the 20th century did Bolivia see the beginning of biology courses in its universities and the development of its own herbaria. Today there are important herbaria in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Sucre with collections ranging between 40,000 and 350,000 specimens. In 2014, under the patronage of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a catalog of the vascular flora of Bolivia was published, in which 15,345 species are recorded, of which 12,165 are native and 2,343 endemic, while 694 are cultivated, 267 adventitious and 221 naturalized.
The inventory of vascular plants in Bolivia lists 2,402 endemic species (approximately 20% of 12,339 native flora). Among the angiosperms, there are 2,263 species from 124 families and 641 genera, while among the pteridophytes, there are 139 species from 16 families and 29 genera. The seven families with the highest number of endemic species are Orchidaceae (418), Asteraceae (246), Bromeliaceae (147), Cactaceae (127), Poaceae (92), and Piperaceae (81). Cleistocactus and Puya have 14 and 55 endemic species, respectively, representing 82.3 and 84.6% of the species in these genera.
The Bolivian biota and its endemicity derive from the influence of four biogeographic provinces, the Amazon, the Andes, the Gran Chaco and the Cerrado, generating several encounters of mixed elements. For example, in the mountains of the Eastern Cordillera with the mixture of Andean and Amazonian flora, while in the Pantanal area (southeast Bolivia) where there are Amazonian elements, the Chaco and the Cerrado took place. The Amazon is found in the alluvial plain from the center to the north of the country, the Andes in the mountain ranges on the west side, the Cerrado in the Precambrian shield in the east (in which the Chiquitanía is also circumscribed), and the Great Chaco in the plains and the Andean foothills in the south.
These four biogeographic provinces, together with the physiography of Bolivia, generally combine opportunities for isolation, speciation and restricted distribution, especially in geological periods, such as the uplift of the Andes and the formation of the valleys. The floristic elements of each biogeographic province are derived from radiation and dispersion processes during geological ages, whose adaptation has been consolidated in current landscapes.
Rugged and wild, with extreme altitudes and vast expanses of uninhabited rural land, Bolivia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Its dramatic geography and climate, which vary greatly across the country, have given rise to the development of different ecosystems, allowing thousands of species of animals, birds and plants to thrive.
In fact, Bolivia is so biodiverse that many species are believed to be waiting to be discovered – in 2015, seven new animal species and at least ten new plant species were found in Madidi National Park, one of the country’s largest preserved areas.. More than 17% of the Bolivian territory is protected, and although Bolivia itself only represents 0.2% of the planet, it has between 35 and 45% of the world’s biodiversity.
When most people think of Bolivia’s native animals, the llama or alpaca usually comes to mind. This should come as no surprise, as camelids, including the llama, guanaco and of course the alpaca, are in fact one of the most popular native animals in the country.
Other popular native animals in Bolivia include the jaguar, maned wolf, giant otter, short-tailed chinchilla, and Andean flamingo. Unbeknownst to many people, the Bolivian Andean flamingo is one of the rarest flamingos in the world. In addition to having a pale pink body, the Andean flamingo also has long yellow legs and three toes.
The spectacled bear, the pink river dolphin, the capybara, the blue morpho butterfly, the tapir and the impressive Andean condor, which happens to be the national bird of Bolivia, are some unique animals native to Bolivia. The jabiru, an extremely large stork, and the eurychoromyiinae are some other interesting animals that make their home in Bolivia.
Unfortunately, many of Bolivia’s native animals, such as the giant otter and the short-tailed chinchilla, are critically endangered or near extinction due to increased predators and changes in the environment.
The llamas are domesticated. They have been used for centuries as pack animals. Wool is very soft, light and warm. Unlike sheep’s wool, it does not shrink when washed.
Alpacas are much smaller than llamas. They are not pack animals, but are raised for their wool. It is used for weaving and weaving. Blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, and ponchos are made from wool.
Guanacos are wild animals. They live in the steep and rocky mountains. They live in herds. They can run at more than 50 km per hour. Pumas, jaguars and foxes hunt them.
Like the leopard, these elusive big cats dislike humans, making them quite difficult to spot. Those looking for a crack should visit the Kaa Iya National Park or the San Miguelito Jaguar Reserve. Coming face to face with one in the wild is worth the effort.
Not an actual wolf, but a canine, these beauties are known for their distinctive manes. Their long legs make them perfectly suited to the grassland regions of northern Bolivia where they hunt alone rather than in packs. A fun fact about the maned wolf is that its territorial pee is said to smell exactly like cannabis.
As the name implies, these otters are huge, the largest weighing up to 34 kg. They live in the rainforest regions of Bolivia, typically around slow-moving rivers with thick vegetation that is ideal for avoiding predators. Seemingly always hungry, these greedy creatures can eat up to 4 kilos of fish, crustaceans and alligators per day.
These incredibly graceful birds are characterized by their pink feathers, long necks, and spindly legs. Exhibited by the thousands at Laguna Colorada, the Andean flamingo is sadly in danger of extinction due to excessive mining near its habitat and prolonged periods of drought. The fact that they only lay one egg a year probably doesn’t help either. You will often see them standing on one leg, which is actually their most comfortable resting position.
Also known as the Andean bear, the spectacled bear is the last surviving species of bear in South America. In the Bolivian Andes, the animal is much smaller than other bear species and is especially adept at climbing trees to escape predators. They survive mostly on plants, only rarely hunting prey.
Also known as a capybara, the world’s largest rodent lives in the warmer regions east of the Bolivian Andes. Despite being grass rats, the largest capybara can weigh up to 65 kg. As excellent swimmers, they spend a lot of time in the water, even sleeping in rivers with only their noses protruding above the surface so they can breathe. It likes to eat tree bark, plants and fruits.
The Andean condor plays an important role in local mythology. This epic black vulture is the largest flying bird in the world when measured by weight and wing span combined, with wings spanning an incredible 3.3m. The condor is a scavenger, constantly on the lookout for tasty fresh carcasses.
Also known as the pink river dolphin for its distinctive hue, these playful mammals are often seen on walks through the pampas of Rurrenabaque, where they playfully swim near delighted tourists. They are the largest river dolphins in the world thanks to a rich diet of fish, turtles and crabs.
The viscacha looks like a rabbit and it looks absolutely adorable. These little critters abound throughout the Bolivian highlands, so much so that farmers consider them pests because of overgrazing the land.
No trip down the Amazon River would be complete without a little piranha fishing, the byproduct of which is actually quite delicious. Don’t be tempted to swim, because if cartoons have taught us anything, it’s not to share the water with a horde of hungry piranhas.
It’s pretty hard not to feel a connection to the world’s slowest moving animal. Native to the warmer tropical regions of Bolivia, these creatures may look cute and cuddly, but their super slow and sharp claws can be deadly indeed. Fun sloth fact: They are so slow that mold sometimes grows on their backs.
A large herbivorous mammal that resembles a pig, the tapir is particularly common around the rainforest and wetland regions of Bolivia, as they require quite a bit of water. Surprisingly, however, there are also quite a few in the arid Chaco region, a fact that leaves biologists baffled. Tapirs are born with a series of white stripes that are believed to provide camouflage. As they age, the stripes fade as they are expected to be able to outrun predators.
A rodent native to the Bolivian Andes, the chinchilla is famous for having the best fur in the world. Its fur is so soft that lice and other parasites cannot live inside it. Since its fur is worth more than mink, the chinchilla has sadly been poached almost to extinction. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to 1.8 meters high.
In the swamps, marshes and mangrove rivers of Bolivia lives the alligator, a species similar to the crocodile. Although much smaller than its Australian crocodile cousins, the alligator still has a decent sized set of super sharp teeth. So remember, keep your arms inside the boat at all times.
The jabirú (tuyuyu) is a large stork. It lives near rivers and ponds. It likes to eat dead fish and fresh carrion.
The rhea is a large flightless bird. They live in grasslands, pampas and bushes. They eat fruits, seeds, roots and insects.
Toucans live in forests. Toucans like to eat fruit but they also eat insects and even small birds.
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