Curacao is has an arid climate, with very little rain, and this gives rise to a special kind of wildlife - adapted to this rather tough existence.
The lack of - and recent resistance to - development has kept most of the countryside pristine - further encouraging wildlife - in particular many endangered species - on land and sea. Curaçao provides some of the best opportunities for protecting diversity of native species in the
Leeward Netherlands Antilles (now called the Dutch Caribbean). As a small island evolution has given rise to species of wildlife are not found anywhere else in the world. But being close to the South America - and in world terms not far from North America - it shares some species with the whole American continent. Some of these species were introduced by the very first settlers - the Arawak Indians, many hundreds of years ago.
Curacao is subtropical and dry and does not have rain forest vegetation.
This environment is a special habitat - home to interesting, sometimes unique species.
Curacao has a diverse range of fauna - colourful tropical birds,
interesting mammals and exciting reptiles.
Nine species of native reptiles are found on Curaçao, seven of which are lizards, of these four are endemic to the Leeward Dutch Antilles at species level. Two species of snakes can be found on Curaçao, both completely harmless. The best known species of reptile on the island is the Green Iguana. The green-greyish animal sparks the imagination of many people - a primeval resonance in those almost prehistoric features. The iguana ("yuana") is the king of Curaçao reptiles, there are several species, in good numbers, on the island. You'll see a lot on the island, light green or grey, lounging in the sun. Whiptail lizards can be seen on every trail sunning themselves. The slender brown ones ("lagadishi") are the females and young, the larger blue green ones ("blò-blò") the mature males of the same species. Whipsnakes are also a common sight but they are not poisonous or aggressive. Geckos live in the small, scrubby trees, feeding on mosquitoes. The male anole ("totèki" or "kaku") has an impressive bright yellow and orange dewlap, which he fans to attract females and ward off attackers. One species of gecko, a translucent tan colour, with bulging black eyes and splayed limbs, has sucker feet, which allows it to scale walls. Locals call this species the "plakiplak" ("stickystick). All of these mentioned species are harmless.
Curacao is home to many species of colourful tropical birds. Of the 215 species of recorded on Curaçao, 57 are resident breeding species, many are migrants from North America, 19 are visitors from South America and 19 are seabirds. Most of the migrants are Neotropical migrants (especially warblers) from breeding grounds in North America. At least 16 subspecies have been noted from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. Eleven of these species breed on Curaçao, and two are totally restricted to the island, namely the Brown-throated Parakeet and the Barn Owl. Curaçao's resident birdlife is unique, with species of West Indian origin mixed with those of South and North American origin.
The island has dozens of species of hummingbirds, bananaquits, orioles, the larger terns, herons, egrets, and flamingos that roost near ponds or in coastal areas. The trupial, a small, black bird with a bright orange underbelly and white swatches on its wings, is a very common sight on Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. The big surprise for us was they are not interested in any breadcrumbs on your table - they are after sugar. My first lesson in tropical bird species. The mockingbird, called chuchubi in Papiamentu, resembles the North American mockingbird, with a long white-grey tail and a grey back. Along the coast it is a delight to see the many pelicans swoop and dive, straight down like a dead weight into the ocean, looking for a meal. Other seabirds include several types of gulls and large, very beautiful, cormorants. Fourteen other birds are endemic to the Leeward Dutch Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) and nearby Venezuelan islands, at subspecies level. On of my favourites is the Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot - birds that also live on Bonaire and the Venezuelan islands of Margarita and La Blanquilla. The Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot has been introduced on Curacao, and increasing on Bonaire, from the dangerously low level of 800 birds. Other endangered breeding birds include the Barn Owl, the Caracara, the White-tailed Hawk, the Scaly-naped Pigeon and several species of tern. Curaçao has five IBAs—the island's international priority sites for bird conservation—covering 16,280 ha (including marine areas) which is around 24% of the land area.
Four types of sea turtles are common around the coast- the Green Turtle, the Hawksbill Turtle, the Loggerhead and the Leatherback Turtle. The first three use a few select beaches, in Shete Boka Park, a protected wild life area, to lay their eggs. One the north west coast several inlets have become home to breeding sea turtles. These turtles are protected by the park system in Shete Boka Park, but you can make park ranger supervised visits . Klein Curaçao, a small island off the south east coast, is the most important sea turtle nesting site, where endangered loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on protected beaches.
Curacao has 11 native breeds of mammals, the Curaçao White-tailed Deer, the Cottontail, family of rabbits and hares, and several species of bats. The deer, the cotton-tail and four species of bats are endemic to the Dutch Antilles at the subspecies level, while the mouse Baiomys is endemic at species level. The white tailed deer is the largest mammal living on Curacao and they number around 250 individuals. The deer on Curaçao is an endemic subspecies, different in appearance and in behaviour from the species on the main land. They are found in many parts of the island, but mostly in Christoffel National Park. Archaeologists believe that the deer was brought from South America to Curacao by its original inhabitants, the Arawaks. The deer and the bats are endangered species.
The hilly north west of the island, is the greenest part of the island. The various hills in the area mean that the area benefits from more rain than the rest of the island. This area is the focus for anyone who wants to explore, and enjoy, Curacao's natural world. Almost 2000 hectares is designated as a protected park - the Christoffel National Park - a nature park that combines wilderness habitat and historical sites. There are several hills in the area - and the central feature of the park is Mount Christoffel - or Christoffelberg - rising 375 metres (1,227 feet) above the scenic scrubland of Curaçao, the highest point on the island. The slopes of this and the other high points in the park provide a diversity of habitats for flora and fauna. The park highlights the island's desert-like terrain and has protected a large variety of native wildlife and plants for over thirty years—it is the island's largest nature reserve and a great place to discover Curaçao's unique flora and fauna. Christoffel park has guided tours (by jeep), cycling tracks and of course hiking trails.
Bats are now recognised as playing a key role in the world's eco system. While birds and bees get the credit for pollinating flowers, plants and crops - bats play a greater role in pollination than either. They clearly suffer from a bad press. In a world where the importance of bio-diversity is now recognised - successful pollination is - by definition – vital. On a tropical island, where water is scarce and survival for flora (and fauna) is already tough, pollination is even tougher than usual. Bats are essential for the pollination of very important plants such as Datu and Kadushi cacti - while in turn the bats rely on those plants for their food. Eight species of bats live on Curacao - from the sub-order Microchiroptera - and fall into three ecological groups:
* insectivorous bats eat flies, mosquitoes and moths.
* nectar-feeding bats pollinating cacti, Calabash trees, fruit trees and flowers with their long tongue - vital to biodiversity on Curacao.
* fishing bat ! The greater bulldog bat, the largest on the island, captures small fish on the surface of the water using echo-location.
It also eats insects and other terrestrial animals like small crabs.
Most bats live in caves and crevices, although some may also use tree roosts. They do not attack people. They forage at night using their vision, smell, and their wonderful sonar system – echo-location, for prey such as mosquitoes. Bats constitute the largest native group of mammals by number of species for Curacao, but their distribution and numbers have been declining. Curacao now has just a few hundred individuals for the most common species; alarming figures which raise the issue of possible extinction. The fact that bats are vital to the flora of the island underlines the importance of bio-diversity. Recent work has shown the key role bats play in the terrestrial ecosystem as the only principal pollinators of columnar cacti, which are a key food source for many species during dry periods.