Check out our handpicked list of wildlife expeditions that will set your pulse racing. By Stuti Agarwal
Catch Up With the Grizzlies of the Canadian Rockies
Perhaps Rudyard Kipling was right when he wrote, “Man village? They’ll ruin him. They’ll make a man out of him.” While life as Mowgli may be difficult (now that we are all, in fact, ruined), a tryst with Mowgli’s best friend may be just what you need to revitalise. The grizzly bears found in the Canadian Rockies may not be Baloo, but they are close relatives. Among the eight remaining bear species on the planet, these bears are the largest mammals in the mountains and an almost sure sight on a hike in the beautiful national parks of Banff and Jasper. Spot these massive animals catching fish or eating berries in the summer, and gaze at playful cubs if you’re lucky. There are also healthy populations of moose, caribou, and wolves here. Add to this the picturesque Lake Louise and Kicking Horse Canyon with the Banff Jasper Collection, and you’re sure to “forget about your worries and strife.”
Strut on a Beach With Penguins
Imagine strolling on a beach with a host of tuxedoed birds stumbling along with you. This is exactly what the Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve, near Trelew in Argentine Patagonia, offers visitors. In one of the world’s largest congregations of magellanic penguins, thousands of individuals gather to breed and nest between late September and April in the peninsula. If you time your arrival near the tail end of the nesting season with Swoop Pantagonia, you may even be treated to the sight of baby penguins hatching and getting ready to migrate—waddling, slipping, and taking an adorable tumble or two.
Slow Down and Watch the Sloth
Costa Rica is as thickly populated with sloths as it is with people. Yet, these lazy animals are inexplicably difficult to spot. They blend into the trees, and since they rarely move in the daytime (they move around four metres a minute, if they must), they are impossible to see without a guided eye. You can watch them go about their idle days in the comfort of a luxury resort at Nayara Springs and its sister retreat, Nayara Resort, Spa & Garden, in Arenal Volcano National Park. Or, head to the Sloth Sanctuary for a guided tour. Why one would want to travel to see them snore is a reasonable question to ask, but if Flash the sloth in Zootopia was any indication, their slo-mo life is totally worth the trip.
Sing Along With Beluga Whales
Every summer, between mid-June and mid-September, the warm waters of the Hudson Bay and Manitoba’s northern rivers in Canada celebrate the homecoming of tens of thousands of white beluga whales, which come here to feed and give birth. Nicknamed ‘melon heads’ and ‘sea canaries’ (for their strange high-pitched whistles and chirping), these sociable creatures allow you to dive right in with them. Sure, there is the option of the passenger boat, but wouldn’t you rather snorkel amidst them, close enough to hear their echolocation clicks and feel their exhalation bubbles a few feet away? Or, cackle with them as they greet your kayak, turning over their side to check you out? Or be on a Zodiac for that premium beluga shot? Sea North Tours offers all this and more.
Capture the Lions that Climb Trees
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” This song of The Tokens can use an update for certain prides of lions found in Kenya, Uganda, and on the Tanzania borders. The lionesses (and some lions) here have adapted to climbing trees and being curiously at home on them, although they are yet to completely master the dexterity of their smaller cousins. Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the few places on Earth where you can witness this amusing behaviour and capture a unique frame. While the sight of a whole pride atop a tree is rare (you can’t expect the king and queen to be available at your beck and call), it is more than worth a trip to these forests. Lion World Travel offers a wide range of safaris.
Track Seven Wild Cats in One Go
The only wet tropical rainforest of the country, Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, is home to many rare bird species, including white- winged wood duck, white-backed vulture, white-cheeked hill partridge, kalij pheasant, rufous- necked hornbill, and nuthatch. Moreover, it is the only forest that boasts of seven wild cats: tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, leopard cat, golden cat, jungle cat, and marbled cat. And in case this isn’t enough to justify a trip, there are primates in the offering. Out of 15 species of non-human primates found in India, seven are found in this virgin rainforest. So, why haven’t you been here yet?
Prowl with Fierce Jaguars
The Cuiabá River in Pantanal has been a haunt of local fisherman for years. Fishing along the riverbanks is so routine that the men pay little attention to the jaguars that come to hunt for their daily meals. And the jaguars, too, couldn’t care less about the silent boats. Find an experienced boatman and guide with Pantanal Safaris in the summer months between July and September, and you have hours of prowling on the river, waiting for these magnificent wild cats to come by for their daily drink or a sumptuous meal of caiman or capybara. You can also spot other wildlife like giant river otters, tapirs, anacondas, howler monkeys, and numerous bird species.
Swim With Whale Sharks
Off the coast of Mexico, the untouched island of Holbox offers you the rare chance to swim with the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark. It can grow upto 14 metres in length and weigh nearly 15 tonnes, but these giants are extremely gentle and even curious about humans. You can swim close enough to observe their surreal pattern of pale white and yellow dots on thick grey skin—all far away from the googly-eyed tourists thronging the Yucatan Peninsula. Migratory patterns dictate that the whale sharks congregate in these warm waters from mid-May to mid-September. Ceviche Tours and Holbox Whale Shark Tours offer this unique experience.
Witness the Gorillas in the Mist
There are fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas left on Earth. A visit to witness the species apotheosised by legendary movies like King Kong and Gorillas in the Mist seems but necessary now. And there is only one place on the planet where you can pay your regards face to face—the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes that runs along Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Rwanda is the best bet with its small size and high density of tracked groups, a long trek along the mountains with Audley ensures an encounter with the hairy beasts as they navigate trees, swing on branches, or beat their chests for the cameras.
Go on a Darvinian Discovery
Charles Darwin, on his famous voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, developed the basis for his Theory of Natural Selection by observing the unique species that inhabit this biodiversity hotspot. Often described as “nature’s great experiment,” the Galápagos Islands are home to endemic wildlife that has evolved in virtual isolation over millions of years. From diving with hammerhead sharks and turtles off Kicker Rock, to witnessing a live version of BBC Planet Earth II’s ‘Marine Iguana vs. Racer Snakes’ sequence, walking with giant tortoises at the El Chato Tortoise Reserve, and swimming with the swift Galápagos penguins off Isla Bartolomé, the archipelago is a live laboratory of evolution, and offers the most holistic encounter with nature possible, all part of tours available here.