Given its tropical Central American location, tourists may be expecting to find all manner of dangerous animals in El Salvador. The reality, however, is that there are only a few native species to worry about. While some of the snakes native to the country might make your toes curl, there are no bullet ants or lethal scorpion stings here.
Sadly, human activities such as deforestation and hunting have destroyed the country’s biodiversity. El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America after Haiti. Almost 85 percent of its forested cover has disappeared since the 1960s. With nowhere to live, species die out. For example, the jaguar and mountain lion, once great symbols of the land, are now extinct.
Despite this incessant purge of wildlife, some resourceful species of venomous snakes, crocodiles and sharks have managed to survive and continue to keep us on our toes.
Should you travel to El Salvador, be sure to keep one eye on the ground. Many species of snake live here, some of which pack a nasty bite. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the Boa Constrictor, weighing in at over 100 pounds and measuring roughly 10 feet in length. The Central American variety of these snakes tend to be of an angrier disposition than their South American counterparts. Although non-venomous, this snake kills by wrapping itself tightly around its prey. Contrary to popular belief, this method does not cause death by suffocation. Instead, the constriction stops blood flow to the vital organs, creating such pressure in the victim’s circulatory system that the heart can no longer pump blood through the body.
Thankfully, they do not usually attempt to constrict animals as big as an adult human, so only lone children would be at serious risk. If you find one in the wild, it will normally attempt to bite rather than wrap itself around you. Though their bite may be painful, it is unlikely to cause serious damage, making them the least deadly snake on this list.
El Salvador once had far more crocodiles than it did now. Poaching and habit destruction severely dented the country’s population of crocs, but conservation efforts are working to restore it. While rare, crocodiles are some of the most dangerous animals in El Salvador. With adults measuring 10-20 feet long and weighing anywhere from 800 to 2,000 pounds, these crocodiles are not to be trifled with. Still, they are not as vicious as some other species such as the Nile and Saltwater crocodiles. In the most recently documented American crocodile attack, the animal bit swimmers without the intention of killing them. Regardless, it’s wise to keep a safe distance.
Also to be found are caiman, smaller cousins of the crocodile. Smaller than crocodiles, generally being in the 4-8 foot range, caiman are usually too small to pose much of a threat to humans. They have been known to display aggression, however; particularly during the rainy season.
Coyotes are one of the most dangerous animals in El Salvador. Although they traditionally maintain a safe distance from humans, this has changed somewhat in recent years. It has become increasingly common for coyotes to live in towns and cities. This can be troublesome, as urban-dwelling animals become habituated to humans, meaning they will allow people to get close rather than running away at first sight. This proximity can cause some unwanted interactions between coyotes and people. Up close, these canines can be very aggressive. Though their size means that they will rarely pose an outright threat to an adult human, they have sometimes killed household pets and children.
Perhaps the biggest danger they pose to humans is as carriers of rabies. In order to avoid a nasty encounter with a coyote, keep a safe distance and especially do not approach a pup in case their mother is nearby. If you come across a pack of coyotes, do not run away and make plenty of loud noise to scare them off.
Shortfin Mako Shark
Known as the cheetah of the ocean, the shortfin Mako shark is capable of swimming at constant speeds of over 20 miles per hour, with bursts of up to 50 miles per hour. By point of contrast, Michael Phelps swims at a top speed of about 4 miles per hour! The shortfin mako is capable of jumping up to 30 feet out of water. This shark is built for speed with its small fins, pointed snout and slim body. Not too slim, mind you – large specimens weigh in at over 1,000 pounds, with the average adult reaching around 10 feet in length. Fortunately, beach-goers are unlikely to encounter them as they tend to swim in deep waters.
Although not usually aggressive towards humans in the water, there have been some shortfin mako attacks on divers. It is particularly notorious, however, for attacking boats. As you might imagine, its speed makes it quite a handful in these situations. According to one report, the shark’s bite sunk. A boat in three minutes. Mako are prized by game fishermen owing to their speed and ability to jump. There are some recorded instances of a hooked shark jumping into a boat, doing tremendous damage in the process. This is exacerbated by their ability to survive out of water for several minutes. Researchers also consider shortfin mako sharks as some of the most cunning sharks by researchers. When deciding whether to attack, a shortfin mako will swim in a figure-of-eight motion with its mouth open. Swimming away from it probably won’t work.
Central American Coral Snake
With red, yellow and black stripes, The Central American Coral snake is distinctive for its impressive appearance. While it may have beautiful markings, those getting up close for a better look might be in for a nasty surprise. These snakes are among the most dangerous animals in El Salvador. Although the bite may seem painless at first, the snake’s neurotoxic venom can cause the victim’s nervous system to malfunction, potentially causing death. This snake can be distinguished from other similarly colored non-venomous snakes by the coloring of its head and tail. While the red stripes are the largest on most of the body, there are none on either the head or tail.
Reaching lengths of around 3-4 feet, these reptiles can be found in forested areas throughout the country. Fortunately for humans, even when provoked, this snake will usually not bite. Nonetheless, it’s advisable not to take any chances.
Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau claims that the oceanic whitetip is the most dangerous shark of all, more so than the great white. There are many accounts of groups of oceanic whitetips engaging in feeding frenzy after a shipwreck, sometimes killing over a thousand stranded passengers. In contrast to the shortfin mako, the oceanic whitetip is a particularly slow mover amongst sharks. It is agile, however, and highly opportunistic. Thankfully for us humans, this shark inhabits deeper waters, hence why attacks are not overly common. Although the numbers are low for oceanic whitetip attacks, many believe this is because most of the fatalities are not recorded. You should be safe from these sharks on the beach, but should your boat crash in the middle of the ocean you might find one nibbling at your toes.
A few varieties of venomous pit viper reside in El Salvador. The most dangerous of these is the South American rattlesnake. Worryingly, this species is common in drier areas of the southern and central parts of the country. Unlike any of the other Salvadoran varieties of snake, its venom is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic. This means that it both interferes with nerve signals and breaks down tissue in the victim. A bite will cause death in 70 per cent of humans if not treated with antivenom. The jumping pit viper and cantil snakes can also inflict a deadly bite, although they are found more rarely. Although these deadly predators may seem like a terrifying prospect, the truth is that humans are nearly always capable of avoiding a bite.
All of the snakes listed in this article will only bite humans as a last resort when provoked or cornered; their first instinct will be to hide. As long as you pay attention to where you place your hands and feet, you shouldn’t run into any trouble. If bitten, it is essential to go straight to a hospital to receive antivenom as quickly as possible.
Are there jaguars in El Salvador?
No, although jaguars are indigenous to El Salvador they are now extinct there. Sadly, humans are at fault here: El Salvador is the second most deforested country in South America, with 85 per cent of its forested cover having disappeared since the 1960s. This wanton destruction of animals’ natural habitat has greatly reduced El Salvador’s biodiversity and caused the extinction of many other native species such as the mountain lion.
Are there tigers in El Salvador?
No, there are no tigers in El Salvador. The only big cats to have ever lived in El Salvador are mountain lions and jaguars. These species are both now extinct.
Does El Salvador have sharks?
El Salvador is home to several varieties of shark. These include the bigeye thresher shark, common thresher shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, great hammerhead shark, silky shark, oceanic whitetip shark and shortfin mako shark. Despite this proliferation, there have only been two reports of shark attacks since the 1800s, with the last occurring in 1993.