Brazil  has an intriguing variety of exotic mammals. While smaller than wildlife you’ll encounter in Africa, Brazilian animals are equally strange and fascinating. The largest creatures you might see—although they’re extremely elusive—are cats such as jaguars and panthers. The onça pintada (spotted jaguar) inhabits the Amazon  and the Pantanal  and may be sometimes be spotted in the Cerrado. These cats prefer night to day, as does the all-black onça preta, also a native of the Amazon. A more commonly seen beast is the furry, ring-tailed coati, which uses its snout to root around for food on the ground or in the trees.
A distant relative is the guaxarim, or crab-eating raccoon, which sports a black eye mask just like its North American cousins and lives near rivers in the Amazon and Pantanal. Another common sight in the Pantanal is the capivara (capybara), the world’s biggest rodent. More like a giant guinea pig than a rat, capivaras are at home on land and in water. They can grow to lengths of 1 meter (3.3 feet) and weigh up to 70 kilograms (155 pounds).
Lontras (otters) are common in rivers of the South and Southeast, while the more rare ariranha (giant otter), which can measure up to 2 meters (6.5 feet), inhabits the lakes and rivers of the Pantanal and the Amazon. The Pantanal is a good place to spot wild deer such as the antlered cervo-de-pantanal. Antas (tapirs) are long-snouted foraging creatures that can grow to the size of a pony. Although fairly common in forested areas, they are very shy. Also common in forests are caititus (peccaries), wild boars that can grow up to 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length and often travel in trampling herds of up to 50.
Tamanduas (anteaters) are surreal-looking creatures with long snouts and even longer furry tails. They spend much of their days sucking up tens of thousands of ants with their sticky tongues. The largest variety, the tamandua bandeira, grows to lengths of 2 meters (6.5 feet) and is a native of the Cerrado. Tatus (armadillos) are nocturnal and hard to see. Some species of tamandúas and tatus are endangered because their meat is considered a delicacy in rural areas. Another really odd-looking beast is the preguiça (sloth), who lives up to its name by doing little more than dozing in trees. When a preguiça does decide to make a move, it does so very slowly.
Of the world’s 250 primate species, over 70 are found in Brazil . Many of these are actually unique to Brazil. In whatever part of the country you happen to visit, macacos or micos (monkeys) are a common sight, even in major cities. You’ll spot many different types in the Amazon forest , including the tiny, pale-faced mico-de-cheiro (squirrel monkey) and the much larger macaco preto (spider monkey), whose long, spindly limbs and tail account for it measuring up to 1.5 meters (5 feet).
Guaribas (howler monkeys) are also common, although since they inhabit tree canopies, you’re much more likely to hear them than see them. Red howlers inhabit the Amazon, black howlers dwell in the Pantanal , and brown howlers can be spotted in the Mata Atlântica. Beware: If they feel threatened, howlers will shower you with their excrement. Cute, tuft-headed macaco-pregos (capuchin monkeys) are ubiquitous throughout Brazil, including in Rio’s Floresta da Tijuca .
Among the most rare and physically striking monkeys in Brazil are the uakari and the mico-leão (lion tamarin). Uakaris are endangered but can be glimpsed at the Amazon’s Mamirauá Reserve . The fuzzy red uakari bears the nickname macaco-inglês (English monkey) due to its bald pink head and blushing red complexion. With faces that are framed by shaggy manes, mico-leãos really do resemble tiny lions (leãos).
The rarest and most splendid of the species is the mico-leão-dourado, whose pelt and mane are a brilliant tawny-gold. A native of the Mata Atlântica of Rio de Janeiro, this striking squirrel-sized monkey was saved from extinction by the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado (www.micoleao.org.br ).
Of all the fascinating forms of wildlife in the Amazon , one of the easiest to observe is the legendary boto (pink river dolphin), an almost blind but very friendly creature whose skin is a startling shade of pink. At Novo Airão, in Amazonas , you can actually swim among these gentle animals. The more conservatively colored tucuxi (grey dolphin) can also be seen in Amazonian waters as well as up and down the Atlantic coastline. Much rarer and infinitely weirder looking is another native of the Amazon, the peixe-boi (manatee), a vast sausage-like beast that actually does, as its name implies, resemble a cross between a fish (peixe) and a bull (boi).
In terms of sea mammals, Brazil’s Atlantic coast is home to seven species of whales. Following centuries of brutal slaughter, schools of frolicking baleias francas do sul (southern right whales) are back in circulation and can be easily spotted (between June and October) at the protected marine sanctuary off the coast of Praia do Rosa, in Santa Catarina . If you’re in Bahia  during the same time (in Praia do Forte  or the Parque Nacional Marinho de Abrolhos ), you can view the equally rare baleias jubarte (humpback whales) breeding. Meanwhile, one of the best places in the world for viewing vast schools of dolphins is on the island of Fernando de Noronha, whose sheltered coves are a favorite feeding spot for large schools of golfinhos rotadores (spinning dolphins).