Some would argue that there is no greater visual beauty in this world than nature in its unbridled, untamed, organically artistic glory, its plants and beasts and geography untouched by civilization, or at least unmarred by it. The red-golden setting African sun on the golden fur of a majestic lion, the sleeping power and mesmerizing patterns of a leopard languishing on green-laden limbs of a centuries-old jungle. A mother gorilla nursing her young, or the precious and rare glimpse of an Asian elephant herd revealing its calves.
For the animal-lovers, explorers, zoologists, nature enthusiasts and the ever-curious, have you ever considered wildlife watching? We’re not talking Planet Earth, we’re talking in the field, in the moment wildlife encounters. Wildlife tourism is a new interest as the regions which exotic animals natively inhabit become more politically and economically stable, and we’re thrilled to share some excellent locations to peak your interest and to inform and inspire your travels.
Before we embark on our virtual safari, however, we would like to note the importance of maintaining responsibility and sustainability in wildlife tourism. These values include mindfulness of delicate habitats and absolute minimization of disturbance. There should be zero encouragement or tolerance of feeding wild animals, as this can have serious implications for their natural habits and future human interaction. Wild animals are highly unpredictable and, by natural evolution, very powerful even when least expected, so it is entirely unknown as to when a seemingly fun feeding can turn into aggressive demands and expectations for more.
The purpose of a wildlife watching journey should be to remain as invisible as possible in order to witness nature in its utterly natural, unencumbered processes. It is an observatory experience, though many other adventurous benefits come with it, including the journey to remote animal watching locations, stealthy positioning for ideal views, the patient wait and the surrounding beauty and curious workings of nature.
Here are a few suggestions for your exploratory expedition.
The Asian Elephant
Smaller than its African relative, the Asian elephant occupies a wide range of habitats across Southern Asia. It is considered sacred and is a spiritual symbol in culture and ceremonies of the region, but poaching, habitat destruction and the killing of elephants by farmers to protect plantation crops has led to its endangerment.
Thailand is an excellent location, teeming with wildlife and exotic jungle flora, to seek the endangered Asian elephant. Elephant treks and encounters are available in many nature parks, such as Khao Sok National Park or Kuburi National Park in the South, or you can even try elephant watching from a tree house in Northeastern Thailand at the Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Bengal Tiger
A beautiful and deadly powerful beast, the remarkable stripes of a tiger can become un-markable in their natural habitat of dark jungles and grassy fields, as nature intended. With perhaps fewer than 3,200 left in the world, tiger watching will needless to say require patience and dedication. Plan to spend at least three days solely dedicated to searching for the elusive Bengal tiger, even if that search means remaining stealthy, silent and still.
India is the most popular destination for tiger watching because it is home to the largest proportion of tigers, and for Bengal tiger watching in particular, though tiger watching of other subspecies is indeed possible in other countries of Asia and Australasia, such as China, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia, as well as Siberia in Russia. Naturetrek Tiger Tours in India boasts ‘100% sightings on [its] top tours’, and in fact offers a wide array of animal watching tours. Natural World Safaris offers some luxury safari holidays in India that include tiger watching on elephant-back, which offers a leisurely and novel way to explore India’s rich flora and fauna.
Tiger watching on foot, however, may appeal to the most adventurous. You can find tours for this bold exploration in Satpura National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal.
Whales and Dolphins
For the sea-goers, water-lovers and marine biologists, whales and dolphins may be the ultimate wildlife watching experience. This group of ocean mammals contains a wide variety of species in various destinations around the world, including the coastal U.S., Costa Rica and Scotland, to name a few popular destinations.
Orcas and dolphins are found in all oceans, but you’ll have a better chance of seeing them in certain areas. The best locations to see orcas are in higher latitudes and coastal areas, and dolphins tend to populate shallower areas of continental shelves and coastal areas.
Humpback whales are also found in coastal areas, but they migrate from summer feeding grounds in high latitudes to warmer waters near the Equator for breeding during winter.
Other interesting species to watch would be African gorillas, chimpanzees, jaguars in South America or polar bears in Canada. For the latter, Frontier Canada has useful information regarding tours and lodge based experiences.
No matter the destination or journey, before you embark you should remember the following virtues for animal watching:
1. Time and patience that will pay off with an eventual sighting.
2. Caution with the unpredictable nature of wildlife and easily disturbed natural habitats.
3. Respect for culture and nature.
4. Appreciation for what you are fortunate enough to see, even if it’s not what you planned.
Have you been on an animal watching excursion or luxury safari? Please share your experiences in comments below.