Where the wild things are
Animal spotting made easy, from spirit bears in Canada to chimpanzees in Tanzania
THANKS to the efforts of conservation-minded companies operating in some of the world’s most remote regions, travellers have the opportunity to make like David Attenborough and experience our most charismatic and endangered creatures in the wild. Just pack a zoom lens and your sense of wonder.
There are no guarantees when it comes to spotting the world’s biggest ‘‘big cat’’, but in the rustling sal tree and bamboo forests of the Bandhavgarh National Park, home to one of India’s largest tiger populations, their spine-tingling presence is palpable, and at dusk villagers on the park’s outskirts are careful to pen their cattle. Guests of Taj Safaris’ Mahua Kothi Lodge, 20 minutes from the park, head out twice daily to look for tigers. You may see nothing more than scat and prints or could have several sightings in a day. The drier months of April through June are your best bet. More: taj safaris.com.
Also known as the Kermode bear, this rare and reclusive creature lives deep in the Great Bear Rainforest, an eerie, fog-shrouded realm of ancient cedars and hemlocks, bound by chilly fjords and forested islands. A curious white version of the black bear, Kermode are concentrated on Gribbell and Princess Royal islands and the best time to catch a glimpse is September when the salmon are running. At King Pacific Lodge, floating accommodation towed into position off Princess Royal every summer and accessible only by seaplane, guides lead guests deep into the forest, an obstacle course of fallen trees and trampoline-springy moss, where, with any luck, you’ll spy a white bear gorging on salmon or daintily picking huckleberries. More: kingpacificlodge.com.
Chobe National Park in northern Botswana is home to the largest elephant herds in Africa; the total population probably exceeds 50,000 and hundreds of elephants may be seen in a day. The best viewing is to be enjoyed during the dry
season (JulyOctober) and it gets better as it gets
drier, says A&K regional managing director Sujata
Raman. She recommends the upscale Sanctuary
Chobe Chilwero Lodge, with day spa, swimming pool and views across the flood plains. More: abercrombie
Another smaller scale but very accessible hot spot is the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa’s Eastern Cape (70km from Port Elizabeth). Founded in 1931, when only 16 elephants were left in the region, the park now has a population topping 550 and during the dry you’ll see large herds gathered around water. Stay at the charming Elephant House. More: elephanthouse.co.za.
While Uganda is thought to claim the highest concentration of hippos, guests of the Mara Explorer Camp in Kenya get to spend plenty of quality time with these enormous creatures. Just metres below the camp’s tents, tucked away in scrubby forest on a bend in the Talek River, hippos congregate in deep pools, belching and farting, yawning and grumbling. If this doesn’t keep you awake, a mongoose frolicking in your outdoor bathtub or a baboon helping himself to tea from your private veranda may do the trick. The camp is also the perfect spot to view lions and cheetahs as well as the great migration in JulySeptember. More: wildlifesafari.com.au.
Less than 900 of these gentle giants are thought to survive in the wild, with about half living in the southern Virunga National Park in the Congo and the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Daily treks, up to eight hours long, are available in the latter. Park regulations permit one hour with a gorilla family (which is habituated to human presence). It is wise to avoid the wettest months, March to May. More: world expeditions.com.au.
The Sampan River is home to one of the largest crocodile populations in the world. Forming the western boundary of Bamurru Plains, a working buffalo run j ust west of Kakadu National Park on the Mary River flood plains, the Sampan wriggles with these ancient reptiles, dozing on river banks, gliding through murky waters or lounging on the grey sand beach at the river’s mouth. Wild Bush Luxury’s Bamurru Plains operates river cruises April-October (the later and drier the season, the more crocs you will see). Also thrilling are the airboat tours of