We’ve been sharing about sustainable travel and ecotourism destinations lately, and why we love ecotourism is also because of the ethical wildlife experiences it offers. Whether it roars, swims or soars, there’s no denying the sense of wonder and awe that animals instill in us. Here are some of the most extraordinary wildlife encounters from around the world! Which ones are you adding to your bucket list?
1. See the Great Migration in East Africa
The Great Migration is an incredible natural wonder to witness. Throughout the year, millions of wildebeest, zebras, antelopes and other herd animals migrate northwards from Serengeti National Park into Masai Mara. Though it is often referred to as an annual event, the Great Migration is actually a continuous year-long migration journey.
From December to May, the animals are largely concentrated in southern Serengeti. Here, they give birth to their young, and slowly make their way northwest across the grassy plains. April to May marks the season of long rains, and the herds will go west along the Grumeti River.
From June to July, the rain winds down and the herds are grazing their way north towards Masai Mara. August and September are perhaps the best times to see the Great Migration, and the Nat Geo-worthy scenes of river crossings and crocodile attacks. From October onwards, the Masai Mara grasslands are flat, and the herds start to leave and turn south. Ever on the move for greener pastures, they make their return back to Serengeti.
2. Monkey around with orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo
Interacting with our primate cousins in the wild is completely different from seeing them in the zoo. Orangutan Odysseys combines adventure and educational tours to support conservation of orangutans and the protection of their habitat. They take small groups into pristine rainforests that are inaccessible to the public to see orangutans in their natural habitat, as well as to local rescue centres. Many of these tours are led by Leif Cocks, renowned conservationist and orangutan whisperer.
This is a truly interactive experience that allows you to give back and make a difference. Participants are required to fundraise for local rehabilitation centres in order to secure a position on tours, and a portion of proceeds also goes directly to orangutan care. Whether you’re taking boat tours on remote rivers or treks into misty mountains, these expeditions respect the environment and are mindful of the local human and non-human inhabitants.
3. Cage dive with sharks in South Africa
The idea of having a shark’s jaw mere metres away from your face might be the stuff of nightmares for many people. But for brave souls and those seeking an adrenaline rush from their wildlife encounters, you can experience the sharks of South Africa – including great whites – up close and personal from inside a metal cage. No diving experience required!
While there are many shark viewing and wildlife encounters in South Africa, Gansbaai and Shark Alley in particular, is one of the best areas to encounter these ocean predators. As always, we suggest going with an operator that’s mindful about the way they conduct their business. White Shark Projects has lots of experience in great white shark research, conservation and ecotourism. Apart from diving with sharks, you can also take part in volunteer projects and get hands-on in shark conservation efforts!
4. Walk amongst penguins in Antarctica
One of the highlights of visiting Antarctica is the wildlife encounters with the seven different species of penguins. These cute critters are a joy to witness and they add an adorable and comedic spark to the dramatic landscape of Antarctica. Watch them swim expertly through the water while fishing, waddle in a line, and slide down hills on their bellies!
Penguins are also very curious creatures. They don’t see a whole lot of humans, so sometimes they’ll waddle right up to you and see what’s up. The safest and most environmentally-responsible way to encounter penguins in Antarctica is to join a polar expedition that follows strict wildlife-viewing guidelines. Quark Expeditions is one of them, and they know where (and when) to go for the best penguin-viewing opportunities that are infinitely better than viewing them from a ship.
5. Pet a panda in China
With less than 2,000 pandas in the wild, very few of us will ever get the chance to see pandas in person, much less interact with them. But for a six-figure sum, you will be able to go behind the doors of Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
Here, you’ll learn how to safely interact with pandas, before entering into their preserve to feed them bamboo. However, the real star of the show here is meeting the young cubs! With a successful panda breeding program, the centre is home to adorable cubs that you can hold and cuddle. This experience comes with a large price tag, but it goes directly into the research, care and preservation of the adorable Chinese icon.