There’s nothing we love more than watching wild animals going about their lives, unfazed by our temporary passing in their world. From the sounds of their calls to their quirky mannerisms and even at times their unique scent, tracking down wildlife requires you to have all your senses engaged. To celebrate World Wildlife Day, we’ve picked out a few of the wildlife encounters we think should be on your bucket list.
1. TRACKING DOWN MAJESTIC MOUNTAIN GORILLAS, UGANDA OR RWANDA
Spotting gorillas in their natural habitat is an unforgettable moment for any wildlife lover. From the rugged rainforests of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to the lush green slopes of Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, gorilla territory is unapologetically remote and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Whilst tracking the mighty gorillas requires patience and stamina, the rewards are unparalleled. Spending time with these magnificent creatures in the wild is exhilarating, even for the most seasoned safari aficionado; you’ll see mothers relaxing on beds of fern, laughing youngsters swinging between branches and chasing each other through the trees, and a huge male silverback munching on bamboo.
2. SEEING A TIGER IN THE JUNGLE, INDIA
A rugged and beautiful wilderness nurturing the giants of the jungle, Central India is the heart of tiger country. As you drive through the jungle at first light, with the early morning sun just breaching the tree line, there’s only one thing on your mind: will you catch a glimpse of the beautiful Bengal tiger? Your chances of spotting this elusive big cat lie primarily in the hands of your expert tracker, who will accompany you on your safari. You’ll be taught to look out for pugmarks and listen out for alarm calls from deer and other creatures; all this helps you work out the whereabouts of the tiger. Nothing compares to the moment when you first catch sight of a tiger’s orange coat, blending perfectly into the yellow and brown hues of the dry forest.
3. WATCHING TURTLES HATCH AND MAKE THEIR WAY TO SEA, COSTA RICA
For sea turtles, the most challenging part of life is the very beginning. These tiny creatures have to break out of their egg which is buried deep in the sand, and make the long journey to the surface. Getting from here to the sea is the next hurdle, with crabs, birds and other creatures all waiting nearby ready to feast. Watching these hatchlings venture out on the first stage of their lifecycle is a heartwarming experience. Tortuguero, on the northeastern coast of Costa Rica, takes its name from this very phenomenon. June to September is turtle season, when you can watch these endearing creatures in their hundreds digging and scrabbling their way out of the sand and scuttling to the sea.
4. WITNESSING A BEAR FISHING FOR SALMON, CANADA
The wonderfully remote Great Bear Rainforest is one of the best places to spot bears in the wild, and the only place in the world that black and grizzly bears are joined by the elusive white spirit bear. The best time of year to visit is during the salmon run, which takes place from late August to early October. Hundreds of millions of salmon return from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the mountain streams where they were born. This provides the bears with the perfect opportunity to stock up on food for their winter hibernation. They wait eagerly by the river, employing fancy footwork and impeccable timing to catch salmon in hard to reach spots.
5. SPOTTING AN ORANGUTAN IN THE WILD, BORNEO
Orangutans are one of man’s closest relatives, and their remarkable likeness to humans makes them truly fascinating to observe, in particular the dexterity of their fingers and the expressions they create with their faces. While many head to Borneo’s orangutan sanctuaries for guaranteed sightings, nothing beats the rare thrill of spotting one in the wild, as you hike through the rainforest to a chorus of hornbills calling overhead. If you’re lucky enough to catch sight of an orangutan, you’ll be mesmerised as he swings effortlessly from tree to tree, gathering a veritable feast of fruit, flowers and termites. After tucking into his findings, you might see him neatly wiping his face with a leaf, a further nod to his human traits.
6. WITNESSING A JAGUAR HUNT DOWN ITS PREY, BRAZIL
The jaguar is native to South America and is the largest big cat on the continent. Their fierce nature and unrivalled power confirms them as one of the jungle’s top predators, and if you manage to witness them pouncing on their prey it’s a sight you’ll never forget. They tend to lurk in sheltered areas among thick foliage (particularly in the Amazon or Pantanal), often patrolling riverbanks, ready to swoop in on an unsuspecting caiman. Once they catch sight of their target, they will crouch low to the ground, with eyes scanning the surroundings and ears twitching. They wait patiently, until with precision timing, they swoop in, locking their jaws and paws on the writhing caiman and hauling him back up the slippery bank.
7. OBSERVING THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION, KENYA OR TANZANIA
Often described as the greatest show on Earth, the annual migration of over a million wildebeest (and hundreds of thousands of zebra) is a natural phenomenon like no other. The wildebeests’ nomadic lifestyle follows Africa’s rains, which provide them with the lush grass and nutrients they need to survive. The migration is a year-long cycle, in which the herd moves in a clockwise rotation up through the Serengeti in Tanzania, crossing into Kenya to spend a couple of months in the Masai Mara, and returning to Tanzania in time for calving season – the whole time trying to evade the many predators along the way.