How wild is wildlife? A top 10 of the coolest animals I’ve seen

Animals in the wild

When I was 8 years old, a Polar Bear in Auckland zoo went crazy and had to be put down, since then I’ve not been a fan of caged wildlife. That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate that zoos exist for conservation however; they also serve the purpose of entertainment and often in unsuitable conditions.

Seeing animals caged or behind bars that restrict natural roaming, leaves me feeling sad rather than appreciative of the conservation aspects. Another reason is I’m in the unique position to travel frequently and see wildlife in the wild as intended, with very little disruption to their natural habits.

You see us travellers have a duty of responsibility when we visit other countries. For years I’ve seen people posing with animals in captivity for the sake of an Instagram like. If you’re having a photo with a tiger or lion that in any other situation would rip you apart, you need to question what’s really happening. If the monkey you’re holding has a chain around its neck, or the drugged snake that’s draped around your neck has its jaw wired shut, it’s your responsibility to question if that photo is perpetuating the ill treatment of animals. Finally, if you’re a well-known blogger (who will remain nameless) and you’re on Facebook “snuggling” a penguin at a Dubai zoo, does this really fall within the realms of conservation? Are you really sending out the right message to your readers?

Kenai Fjords National Park

When I look at protected areas like the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, or Yellowstone National Park in America where humans and wildlife co-exist with minimal disruption to the animals, it fills me with absolute respect.

Below I’ve created a top ten of my favourite animals spotted in the wild. In an age when elephants are killed for their tusks, tigers for sexual potency, snakes for their skins and rhino for horn, this blog post is a celebration of those areas which allow wildlife to exist in a habitat, which doesn’t involve cages. Long may this continue!

Animals, Mammals and Wildlife

Tracking Wolves – Yeloowstone National Park, America
During the winter of 2016, I visited Yellowstone National Park for seven days to track wildlife and wolves. This wintery wilderness of snow and mountains proves that although Yellowstone is visited by millions of tourists annually, it’s very much a wild park and there are real dangers there. We enlisted the help of a Wildlife and Wolf Tracking Guide (best job title ever!) and caught sight of a family of wolves in the Lamar Valley. Having set up telescopes we watched as the parents taught their young how to hunt, hardening them to this brave new world. At one point the young pups were howling and the sound reverberated against the surrounding mountains, echoing throughout the valley. It was a magical experience and only possible due to the reintroduction of wolves after they were aggressively hunted to near extinction during the first decades of the 1900s. Check out this amazing podcast which details how the reintroduction of wolves has affected all aspects of Yellowstone.

I realise they look small, but I assure you they are wolves and through the telescopes, they put on quite a show.

Cheetah – Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
I grew up watching wildlife documentaries with my father on television, never thinking that one day I would see cheetah in the wild so when I visited Tanzania, I booked a 3 day tour of the Serengeti National Park in the hopes of seeing Cheetah. The reason I like the Serengeti is because it’s massive and there is little obvious disruption to animals and their natural behaviour. I remember the guide parked the 4×4 near the base of a tree, having clearly spotted something long before us. He pointed to a mid-range branch and hanging there with a kill behind him and bloodied paws was a cheetah, bold and beautiful but equally savage. Its electric colouring is perfect for blending into the dry grass and sleek frame built for speed but he lay there with a full belly, completely unfazed by the humans nearby or our camera shutters clicking away. It’s moments like this that it’s hard not to be acutely aware that this is their playground, and their rules.

Photo credit: blog.londolozi. Unfortunately I lost every single photo from this trip due to a crashed hard drive.

Grizzly Bear, Alaska, America
A few years ago I visited Alaska and I was lucky enough to take a float plane into Redoubt Bay wilderness in the hopes of seeing bear in the wild. After arriving, we were greeted by thousands of salmon literally swimming over each other to make their way up river. One obvious hurdle and flaw to their plan, was the mother Grizzly Bear and her three cubs being taught invaluable lessons in how to devour fresh salmon. We literally sat there for hours and watched them fill their bellies and splash around in the water. These wonderfully cute animals, having woken hungrily from hibernation, had their pick of the salmon, even if they had an audience whilst they ate.

American wildlife

Lemur, Madagascar, Africa
The forests of Madagascar are rapidly disappearing as wood is shipped illegally overseas, and with this the Lemur populations are losing their homes. I travelled to Madagascar in 2015 and saw this massive deforestation first hand, but I also witnessed changing attitudes and Lemur tourism is becoming popular, as are conservations projects. I recall walking through the thick forest with a jungle guide, tracking the elusive Lemur that simply did not want to be found. All of a sudden, a noise filled the forest surrounds that sounded more like an alarm but it was Lemurs communicating with each other, or singing as I would call it. I suspect they were having a conversation to determine if we were good humans and having established we were, put on a show for us leaping between branches and looking ridiculously cute in the process…here have a listen.

L1000910

Lemur

Kiwi Bird, New Zealand
The symbol of a nation and a flightless bird I grew up hearing all about in New Zealand. It wasn’t until a road trip in the South Island that I saw my first Kiwi. That’s what I like most about this rare bird, they are so uncommon that many New Zealanders haven’t seen one, and yet we identify ourselves as Kiwi’s from New Zealand. I had to go into the forest at night in Franz Josef (South Island) and it was the heady combination of glow worms and the Kiwi bird which made this such a remarkable experience. Clearly we weren’t the only ones creeping around in the forest at after dark!

Unfortunately my night vision photography skills are rubbish, but here is a kiwi with a kiwi.

Sloth – Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
The Amazon Rainforests of Bolivia and Brazil are full of those sleepy, dozy animals called Sloth, but trying to spot one can be a tough gig. They are typically busy sleeping high up in the branches, or moving at glacial speeds and looking fiercely adorable as the Amazon River moves faster than they ever will. A few times I’ve seen a sloth on the move, which is a laugh a minute. They move so slowly that it’s hard to take a sloth seriously but as well as seeing them on television adverts, I feel intensely lucky to have spotted them in the wild, even if it was from a distance and mostly whilst they were fast asleep.

sloth

Elephant Seals – Antarctica
One of the last true bastions of wilderness, any visit to Antarctica is a remarkable trip and I feel incredibly lucky to have been. It was an experience which left me humbled by the wildlife I saw, extreme elements I experienced and the force and beauty of Mother Nature. Having arrived to Deception Bay by Zodiac boat, we disembarked and saw a colony of Elephant Seals basking in the cool summer air. One thing I noticed about these fierce killers is they always look like they’re smiling. Even when chasing tourists on a beach with the intention of causing damage, they look like they’re playing and after catching us would be more likely to buy us a pint then take chunks out of us. I stood at a safe distance and watched them readjusting their monstrous bodies, listened to the snorting and smelled the gasses emanating from their bodies. It was a memory that I’ll never forget. Here check out the smile on this guy, how could you not love this face?

Totally cute

Rhino – Kruger National Park, South Africa
The first African safari is a tremendous experience, and for most it’s the first time we’ll see animals in the wild and not on a television screen. I recommend a safari to anyone as it puts us in a safe environment, typically in a responsible way (though do your research before booking), and gives us the chance to see wildlife and learn about them from the people who know. A rhino is an animal I’ve always been fascinated by, mainly because of their monstrous tusk which serves as their pride within the animal kingdom, but it also makes them a number one target. I’ve seen rhino a number of times and they are weary animals and for good reason, heaven help anyone who gets in the way of such immense weight, muscle and power. This is definitely one of those animals I was happy enough to watch from a distance.

No not the buffalo, the timid rhino in the background!

Kruger National Park

Sperm Whale – Sailing (at night), New Zealand
When I was 16 I went on the boat in New Zealand called the ‘Spirit of Adventure,’ a sailing experience with the goal of teaching team and confidence building to young folk. Our days were filled scrubbing the deck, maintaining the ship, swimming and learning about the life of a sailor and sailing in general. Throughout the night we took it in shifts to keep a regular log of our coordinates and weather patterns and it was here that I first heard my first Sperm Whale. It was pitch black and a blanket of stars lined the sky. From out of the darkness, the heavy sound of water being exhaled rapidly through a blow hole sounded out, followed by the sound of deep breathing. We sat on the bow of the boat mesmerised as this process which repeated on and off for 5 minutes before becoming silent again…somewhere under the Southern Cross.

Ok so it's not the Sperm Whale I heard that night, but it was taken in New Zealand, in Kaikoura.

Polar Bear – Churchill, Canada

Last but not least, I’m booked to fly to Churchill in Canada this November with Lazy Bear Lodge to see my favourite animal, the Polar Bear. This is around the time they begin making their way back out to see as the ice forms. Seeing these monstrous creatures in the wild has been on my list for far too long and unlike China which displays a tank and polar bear in a shopping centre, I intend to see them in the wild!

So there you have it, 10 beautiful animals and mammals that I have been lucky enough to see in the wild. I’d love to hear what yours are?

Happy travelling.

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