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South America’s Pantanal

About the Exhibit

South America’s Pantanal will allow guests to explore the tropical wetlands of Brazil right here at the Houston Zoo. The lush habitat highlights animals we are protecting in the wild, including giant anteaters, tapirs, and more. Partnered with on-the-ground conservationists, the Zoo will offer visitors the chance to see these animals in an immersive and engaging trail. As guests enter South America’s Pantanal, they will encounter a set of rustic buildings, set on piers, evoking the eco-lodges that can be found alongside the rivers and streams in the Northern Pantanal region. The nature tourism these lodges support is one of the important ways this vital landscape and unparalleled wildlife assemblage is being protected

This new exhibit is set to open at the Houston Zoo on Saturday, October 10.

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October 8 & 9, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
As a member, you get exclusive access to South America’s Pantanal before it opens to the general public on October 10!

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Animals to See Here

Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America. Females are larger than males and can weigh up to 700 pounds. They inhabit rivers and wetlands and eat grass, plants, and fruit.

As guests walk around the bend, they will be met with the bright and bold colors of two spectacular and rare South American birds: blue-throated macaws and blue-billed curassows. The blue-billed curassow is amongst the most endangered of all birds. This large, mainly black species is the only curassow with a distinctive blue cere (the spot at the base of the upper bill), earning the bird its common name. Blue-throated macaws have a bright yellow breast, blue wings and a distinctive blue collar. The Houston Zoo is one of a few zoos in the US that breed these critically endangered birds, and we are working with our colleagues in South America to protect them in the wild.

This rare species was thought to have been lost from the wild until it was rediscovered in 1992. Surviving populations are extremely fragmented and vulnerable. We are the only Zoo that parent-raises these critically endangered birds!

An anteater may eat up to 30,000 ants in one day, using its long sticky tongue that can be up to 24 inches in length.

On the opposite side of the path beneath the lodge, giant river otters splash in a multi-dimensional streamside habitat. Guests will peer at the otters through more than 100 lineal feet of four-inch-thick, crystal-clear acrylic panels that bring them nose-to-nose with the otters above and below water. At more than 50 pounds and five feet long each, giant river otters are the largest freshwater otters in the world. This is the first-time guests to the Houston Zoo will have a chance to see this type of otter. At one point along the streambank, schools of large tropical fish, sting rays and turtles can be seen in a sheltered cove, seemingly sharing the stream with the otters (but safely separated by invisible acrylic panels).

Next, the heaviest snake in the world, a green anaconda, lies in wait in the water below the howler monkeys in the gallery forest canopy. In nearby dry-season streambed channels, poison dart frogs hop amongst the greenery, an emerald tree boa lounges high on a branch, and fist-sized smoky jungle frogs peer out from a shallow pool.

Next, a sheltered seating area creates a venue for Zoo staff and tractable program animals from South America to make impromptu appearances to engage guests—one day it might be a boa constrictor, another a tamandua or a sloth, or perhaps a tegu lizard or red-footed tortoise.

Living with the howler monkeys in this mixed species habitat are a pair of small, bright orange golden lion tamarins. These boisterous monkeys weigh less than a pound each and use roughly 40 different screams and chirps to communicate what is happening around them.

Golden lion tamarins were near extinction in Brazil, but zoos have worked together to breed the tiny monkeys for release into protected forests; today there is a thriving population of golden lion tamarins in the wild. On the ground, guests will spy a couple of red-rumped agouti. These unusual rodents have large front teeth that can crack through a Brazil nut and can use their powerful back legs to jump as high as six feet in the air. These rodents are the “cleanup crew” of South America’s forests. Monkeys are messy eaters, so plenty of fruits and nuts fall to the ground for agouti to forage.

Walking under the “lodge” deck, the first animals guests will encounter are a family of howler monkeys that occasionally burst into a cacophony of the loud vocalizations which give them their distinctive name. The dimorphic monkeys–males are black, females are brown–rarely come down from the trees they live in and use their strong prehensile tail as a fifth limb, allowing them greater versatility when climbing.

Guests might feel as if they are being watched from the side and above as they move along the forest trail. And they are! The largest cat species in the Americas, the jaguar, will keep a keen eye on visitors from several vantage points in their new habitat. Houston jaguar Tesoro can be seen inside the main habitat or above the path in a fully enclosed jaguar bridge. Sculped by craftsmen to look like a fallen tree, this jaguar highway will act as a path for the cats to move from their behind-the-scenes night house to the spacious new habitat. On some days, a jaguar might have the opportunity to lounge up there for as long as they like, watching guests pass below.

Sounds used in the ambient soundtrack heard throughout the PANTANAL exhibit are in part courtesy of Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For information on individual species included, please see a Houston Zoo staff member for a list, or visit their website at