The main reason for visiting the Chaco is to see its varied and fascinating wildlife. Despite the vast lists of elusive, endangered mammals given in the region’s tourist literature, though, only the very luckiest or most patient observers will see a jaguar, maned wolf, giant armadillo or mirikiná (nocturnal monkey). The surest bet for seeing any animals is to hire the services of one of the region’s few but excellent tour operators.
Parque Nacional Copo
In the northeast corner of Santiago del Estero Province, the Parque Nacional Copo is the best remaining chunk of prime dry Chaco left in the country and the only area of protected land in the Argentine Chaco big enough to provide a sustainable habitat for some of the region’s most threatened wildlife, including the elusive Wagner’s peccary. Giant and honey anteaters also inhabit the park, as do the threatened crowned eagle, the greater rhea and the king vulture. Frequently parched, it’s a huge expanse of approximately 1140 square kilometres, with 550 square kilometres of provincial reserve attached to the west.
Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo
The edges of the woodland patches of the Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo, to the north of Formosa city, can be great for glimpsing the larger mammals, including giant anteaters, honey anteaters, peccaries, deer, three types of monkey and pumas. Capybara, the two species of cayman, and even tapir live in the wetter regions of the park. Jaguars are believed to be extinct here, but the maned wolf can, very occasionally, be found – indeed, this park offers one of your best chances of seeing one. Almost three hundred species of birds have been recorded here, including the bare-faced curassow and thrush-like wren, both highly endangered in Argentina.
The Complejo Ecológico, on the RN-95 near Presidente Roque Sáenz Peña, however, is really the best place for guaranteed viewing of the endangered beasts of the Chaco, including the maned wolf, jaguar, puma, tapir, honey anteater, bare-faced curassow, giant anteater and giant armadillo. This zoo fulfils an important educational role in an area where ecological consciousness is sometimes acutely lacking. Poorly funded, it nonetheless does an excellent job at rescuing, releasing or housing wounded or impounded specimens that are the victims of road traffic accidents, fires, illegal hunting and unscrupulous animal trading.