THERE AREN’T MANY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES more rewarding than having a close encounter with a wild animal in its natural habitat. Be it a tiger, a whale, or a platypus, it is about watching the animal go about its day and being briefly accepted into its world.
The trick with wildlife-watching is knowing where to go and managing expectations. Close encounters with wildlife are rare and hard to come by. But, you can improve your chances of an unforgettable experience by traveling to wildlife hotspots where animals are more tolerant of people.
Here are the rarest places to travel for wildlife:
Addo Elephant Park, South Africa
African elephants are not difficult animals to spot on the savanna. But for a truly close encounter, head to Addo Elephant Park in South Africa. Elephants are everywhere you look in Addo: a group of young bachelors cooling off in the shade, a massive tusker strolling across the savanna, a large herd led by a matriarch to the watering hole. The specially-constructed hide near a watering hole gives you a front-row seat to one of nature’s most majestic sights: a family of elephants interacting and caring for their young.
Apart from the elephants, Addo is a good place to see kudus, red hartebeests, elands, buffalos, and many small creatures from mongooses and meerkats to the rare flightless Addo dung beetle.
The Beauty Of Namibia
What wildlife list would be complete without Namibia? Sure, the temperatures soar in the dehydration state during the days and freeze at nights, but the visit is certainly worth the suffering. During your visit here you can catch rare glimpses at everything from rhinos to cheetahs or leopards. However, the rarest species has got to be the Cape fur seals, which can only be located in the deepest south region of Africa.
The Koala, Queensland, Australia
The koala is one of the world’s laziest animals. Sleep – their favourite activity – takes up around 22 hours of their day. This is why most travellers assume finding a group of koalas asleep in a tree is easy. The truth is, however, that since most of these animals had been evicted from their habitats or affected by human activity in some other way, the best place to see them is in the Lone Pine Koala Park in Brisbane, Australia.
This lush rainforest island, divided between Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia, is home to the endangered Bornean orangutan, the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, and about 1,000 pygmy elephants that are unique to the island.
The area’s biodiversity is enormous: Between July 2005 and September 2006 alone, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), 52 new species of plants and animals were discovered in the Borneo rainforest. Unfortunately, the rainforest itself is under threat. According to a 2005 WWF report, Indonesian Borneo lost more than 1.21 million hectares of rainforest per year between 1997 and 2000. (One hectare is about 2.5 acres.) Illegal logging, forest fires and the development of palm oil plantations are to blame.
Meanwhile, according to the same report, the illegal trade of protected wildlife is a billion-Euro-a-year business in Indonesia. The orangutan is particularly prized: A 2003 survey by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC found that in just one month, Indonesian officials confiscated 30 orangutans from would-be wildlife dealers.
The Mediterranean Basin
The ring of shoreline surrounding the Mediterranean Sea has been teeming with humans for at least 8,000 years. It may seem strange to think of such a populated area as endangered, but the shores of the Mediterranean are home to 22,500 plant species, four times more than the rest of Europe combined, according to Conservation International. Half are found nowhere else in the world. Though tourism supports a significant chunk of the area’s economy, the development of coastlines meant to lure in vacationers threatens the native flora. Deforestation, fires and grazing have destroyed the vegetation in 95 percent of the Mediterranean Basin.
The area is also home to the Iberian lynx and the Mediteranean monk seal, the most threatened cat and seal species on the planet, respectively, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Only about 500 monk seals, and as few as 150 Iberian lynxes, survive in the wild.
The Sea Of Cortez, Mexico
You don’t have to invest in a Hong Kong Tour Packages trip to understand the impact that the Mexican culture has had on the United States. Not only is Spanish becoming a second a language to most Americans, but also most Americans are even adapting to the culture. While Mexicans are flooding the US borders there really are too few Americans visiting Mexico. Right between the peninsula of California and Mexico, there is a nutrient-rich sea known at the Sea of Cortez. This is a beautiful glacier, blue sea that is home to tons of marine life. Visitors can view species of whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles, sea lions, and even shorebirds.
Get Majestic In Churchill, Manitoba
There really is something majestic about the polar bear species. They thrive in the coldest climates and possess the ability to rip all your limbs from your body. This truly strong and magnificent creature can be seen in rare form in Churchill, Manitoba. In fact, this location is home to the world’s largest population of polar bears. When you factor this in with the fact that there are only 800 residents in the area, the polar bear population might actually outrank the human civilization. Fortunately, these are not the only animal species that you can see in the area. You can also view over 250 different species of birds as well. Of course, the rarest being the Ross’ Gull.
Kangaroo Island, Australia
Located just off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is all about wildlife. It is even named after one of its more numerous inhabitants. The most epic wildlife attraction on the island, however, is not the kangaroos, but the breeding colony of the endangered Australian sea lions.
The National Park’s rangers offer guided tours that take you right into the heart of the colony. Down on the beach, you can walk among the bulls fighting for dominance, young pups learning to swim, and mothers suckling their young.
All over the globe, natural habitats continue to disappear. Not only does that mean the wondrous sights we travel for are fading, but it also means that the animals that live within them are being driven to extinction. There are some of the world’s rarest animals – some so rare we don’t even have pictures of them – and we should be doing our bit to save them.