Weird & Wonderful Wildlife Safaris

By Jana Soeldner Danger

Gliding in a small boat at midnight on a river in Borneo. Witnessing families of gorillas playing, foraging, building nests and breastfeeding their babies. Catching sight of an elusive, fleet-footed jaguar running on the Pantanal in Brazil. Tracking footprints, crushed grass and animal warning cries to search out a tiger in India. Watching adorable meerkats peek out of their dens, then begin to tumble and play together as the rising African sun warms their bodies. And listening to the nocturnal croaking of red-eyed tree frogs in the darkness of a tropical night in Costa Rica.These are just a few of the life-changing experiences awaiting animal loving world travelers in 2017.

Entering The Zone Unknown
“Inspired by this call to adventure, the traveler sets forth on their adventure, first crossing the threshold to enter a zone unknown — a foreign land where they are unfamiliar with the landscape, the culture, the language, and/or the people [and native animals!],” said Michael Bennett, Ed.D., of the Transformational Travel Collaborative, who focused his doctoral research on the critical elements of adventure travel experiences that lead adults to transformational learning.

Exploring Ecosystems
Interest in wildlife safaries around the world has soared, not only for the experiential thrill of entering the secret worlds of animals in their native habitats, but also for the transformational educational experience to better understand sustainability and eco-responsibility in a way that helps local emerging economies shift from exploitive practices to those that promote conservation and preservation.

Here are some of the travel experiences waiting for adventurers:

Costa Rica
The vibrant red-eyed tree frog, the inquisitive Coatimundi and the jovial-looking but slow sloth enchant wildlife seekers in Costa Rica. “This is an ideal gateway experience for a wildlife adventurer,” said Josh Cohen, director of Wild Planet Adventures based in California. “It has so many different ecosystems, all in close proximity to each other.” Adventurers can visit 12 distinct ecological zones within an area the size of New Hampshire. Costa Rica has more plant species than all of Europe, and thousands of wildlife species.

In a Borneo nature trek, guests can experience the oldest rainforest in the world and one of the only remaining natural habitats for endangered orangutans and proboscis monkeys, as well as  creatures that could be straight from a fairytale, like the wide-eyed tarsier. You can also visit the remote Maliau Basin, a recently discovered pristine, untouched area known as the “Lost World.”

Travel to one of the few places left in the world where tigers can be seen in the wild. These beautiful, fearless felines spark the imaginations of many adventurers. Track them by listening to animal warning cries and hunting for footprints and bloodstains in the grass. “It’s authentic tracking,” said Cohen. “A mystery unfolds before your eyes and suddenly you see the tiger.”

Wild Planet Adventures assists with animal preservation here, as well. For example, it helps pay to vaccinate sheep against hoof and mouth disease, which had been killing them in large numbers.  In exchange, shepherds agreed to stop poisoning leopards, which were preying on some of the sheep. “The leopards are now living in harmony with the shepherds,”  Cohen said.

Watch white macaques, or snow monkeys [like the curious little guy shown at right], relaxing in natural hot springs on the slopes of the Japanese Alps near the Nagano Prefecture on a Viator tour. Travelers are most likely to see the fascinating creatures in the Jigokudani Monkey Park during the colder winter months when the animals prefer to enter the warm pools.

In Brazil, explore both the Pantanal, one of the world’s largest wetlands, as well as the Amazon rainforest. “The area has the highest density of jaguars in the world, and they come out to hunt caimans (small crocodiles),” Cohen said. “They’re one of the most coveted sightings, and they’re challenging and difficult to see.” Sail around the Taiama Ecological Reserve station. You won’t be able to set foot on this river island, because no humans are allowed there, but you may well spot some jaguars. “It takes 10 hours to circumnavigate,” Cohen said.

South Africa and Uganda
Many tourists visit South African national parks in search of the “big 5”: lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants, and rhinos. But the country also has a few remote and little-known reserves where rarer animals live..

Watch habituated (those that no longer feel threatened by humans) meerkat colonies, search for black-maned Kalahari lions, chimpanzees and cheetahs, and perhaps catch sight of the extremely rare panogolin (a scaly anteater), as well as aardvarks and aardwolfs, a type of hyena.

In Uganda, adventurers will travel side-by-side with scientific researchers into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where they may see tree-climbing lions and mongooses. They can also watch habituated gorilla families nursing their babies, foraging for food and going about other daily activities. “We have exclusive access to research station trails, and our travelers get to witness the gorillas in a wide variety of behaviors,” said  Cohen. “We work side-by-side with researchers and provide funding to discourage poaching. After 16 years of the program, there hasn’t been a single gorilla poached.”

Wild Pandas in China
Who doesn’t love pandas? The Minshan Mountains of the Sichuan Province of China are the last wild habitat of these entrancing creatures, and you may be able to get up close and personal with some of them on a tour with Natural Habitat Adventures.

Bahamian Swimming Pigs
No one knows exactly how pigs got to the Exuma Islands of the Bahamas. Some say sailors left them. Others think they swam from a shipwreck.  Whatever their origin, today they delight visitors to Big Majors Cay by swimming out to meet their boats, hoping to be fed. Exuma Water Tours will help you get acquainted with the friendly creatures.

Weird & Wonderful Wildlife Safaris