Striking Pictures of Mexico's Wildlife for Cinco de Mayo

Beautifully spotted ocelots, rare vaquitas, and raccoon-like coatis are among Mexico's animal gems.

The Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo—"May 5" in Spanish—will make for some wild fiestas this weekend around the globe. Many mistake it for Mexico's independence day, but it actually celebrates the unlikely defeat of French forces by Mexico's army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Before you get too mired in margaritas, Weird Animal Question of the Week decided to take a closer look at some of Mexico’s real—and often endangered—wildlife.

COATI

They may look like a mashup of cats and ring-tailed lemurs, but the four species of coati are kin to racoons.

COATI The four species of coati (pictured, a white-nosed coati) are relatives of racoons.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILDLIFE GMBH, ALAMY

“They’re very social,” says Matt Gompper of the University of Missouri, who has studied the dark-brown mammals for 20 years. Groups range from 10 to over 50 females and their offspring; males usually only pop in only during mating season.

Male coatis also have among the sharpest canine teeth in nature, which are mostly used for display against other males, Gompper says. But if needed, “they can pack a punch."

VAQUITA

The black patches around their eyes and lips gave them the nickname “panda of the sea,” but this mask isn’t what makes the vaquita hard to spot.

VAQUITA A critically endangered vaquita lies dead after being caught in a vet in Baja, California.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FLIP NICKLEN, MINDEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

The critically endangered porpoise is both shy and rare, inhabiting a tiny range of the Gulf of California. A 2016 survey found only 30 left in the wild, down from fewer than 600 in 1997. Images and video of live vaquita are rare; just this week the Mexican government released footage of two vaquita swimming.

The marine mammals have declined dramatically in recent years as they get accidentally caught in fishing nets. For instance, many have been entangled in gillnets during illegal fishing for the critically endangered totoaba, a fish whose swim bladder is prized in China as having supposed medicinal properties, says Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, chairman of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. 

However the Mexican government is prioritising recovering the species, he says. For instance, these gillnets have been temporarily banned in the upper Gulf of California, says Rojas-Bracho, and there are plans for a permanent ban.

There are also efforts underway to relocate some of the remaining vaquitas to a national sanctuary in San Felipe, where the animals will be monitored via acoustics, visuals, and U.S. Navy dolphins.

There are risks in moving the animals to new territory, but it’s “the only option to prevent their extinction,” Rojas-Bracho says.

BLUE-CAPPED HUMMINGBIRD

Despite their bright coloration, these hummingbirds went unseen by ornithologists until 1963, Tom Schulenberg, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, says by email.

It could be a short acquaintance.

This endangered species lives only in the cloud forests of Oaxaca's Sierra Miahuatlán mountains, and “forests in that part of the world are very vulnerable to deforestation,” Schulenberg says.

JAGUARUNDI AND OCELOT

JAGUARUNDI These rarely seen cats can be brown or black. The stealthy hunters weigh between 4.5 and 10 kg.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ARCO IMAGES GMBH, ALAMY

These small cats share the same habitat—from the southern United States through South America—but not appearance. Long, squat, flat-faced jaguarundis have a uniform coat, while small, agile ocelots sport striking coat patterns.

Fortunately, both cats have stable populations. 

HOWLER MONKEY

HOWLER MONKEY A black female howler monkey carries her baby in Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHICO SANCHEZ, ALAMY

An amplifying hyoid bone in their throats gives these famously loud monkeys their volume. (Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with pictures of Mexico.)

HOWLER MONKEYS

Found in southern Mexico, these primates howl mostly in the morning, likely to alert other troops to their location.

Sometimes they’ll howl to update their location or to communicate stressful events—both of which would make them social media aces.

Header Image: OCELOT Although ocelots (pictured, an animal in Chiapas) are listed as a species of least concern throughout Mexico and Central and South America, they are considered endangered north of the Rio Grande in the U.S. PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANS LANTING, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

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