Nature trips

Top 10 places to see animals in the wild

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

With the thawing of winter in many parts of the world, animals and humans alike are starting to wake up and get outside. As avid wildlife watchers, members of the travel website VirtualTourist.com compiled the “Top 10 Places to See Animals in the Wild.”

•  Serengeti National Park — Tanzania. Northern Tanzania provides more opportunities to see large numbers of animals in the wild than possibly any other spot in the world. VirtualTourist members mentioned both Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area as prime spots to see animals in the wild. Both of these areas are famous for spotting the “big five:” lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinoceros.

The Serengeti area also provides a unique opportunity to watch animal migration in action. The wildebeest and zebras spend the rainy season from December to June in the volcanic open plains below the Ngorongoro Crater, where the grass growth is most productive and nutrient contents high. Once the rains stop in June, the animals move west towards Lake Victoria, and then migrate north into the Masai Mara, only to return to the Serengeti with the rain in December. It is one of the last great migratory systems intact and a rare opportunity to see over a million of any species, let alone just two, roam together.

•  Bandhavgarh National Park — Madhya Pradesh, India. Many travelers would love to see a tiger, but the endangered species is increasingly rare. According to the World Wildlife Fund, only about 3,200 wild tigers remain, with the largest population, the Bengal tiger, found primarily in India.

A VirtualTourist member suggested Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India, as a great destination for spotting these in the wild. Since 1993, the park has been considered a tiger reserve so it has the highest density of tigers in India, making it more likely you’ll spot one during your visit. In addition to the Bengal tiger, the park is also home to more than 22 species of mammals including leopards, jungle cats, striped hyenas, jackals and Bengal foxes.

A safari at the park can be experienced one of two ways: via jeep or on the back of an elephant. The best time to visit is from mid-November to June.

•  Kangaroo Island — South Australia. Only 10 miles off the South Australian mainland, Kangaroo Island is a great site for seeing all kinds of animals, but two species in particular have drawn VirtualTourist members there: kangaroos and seals.

One spot not to miss is Seal Bay Conservation Park, located on the island’s southern shore, where visitors can observe Australian sea lions via the self-guided boardwalk or opt for beach access through a guided tour. Another recommended location is Flinders Chase National Park, which is home to hundreds of kangaroos and New Zealand fur seals. Many also members enjoyed photographing the Remarkable Rocks, a unique collection of rock formations in Flinders Chase National Park.

Although there is animal activity on Kangaroo Island year round, two times of year provide special sights. In the Australian summer (December to February), kangaroos and wallabies can be seen at dawn and dusk. It’s also the time when the Australian sea lion breeding season begins, so Seal Bay will be populated with cute pups. In Australian winter (June to August), kangaroo and wallaby joeys (babies) start to emerge from the mother’s pouch and feed alongside them, and southern right whales pass along the island’s shores during their migration from Antarctic waters.

•  Katmai National Park and Preserve — Southwestern Alaska, United States. One of the greatest locations in the Northern hemisphere to observe animals is in the Alaskan wilderness. While a great variety of animals can be found in southwest Alaska, visitors to Katmai National Park and Preserve are usually on the lookout for brown bears. According to the park’s website, its brown bear population was recently estimated at more than 2,100.

Brown bears are particularly attracted to the salmon runs that occur at Brooks Falls during the summer, so a great time to spot them is from late June thru mid-July and September, although they can be present anytime between May and December. Since there is no road access to the King Salmon, the park headquarters, visitors must fly into the park.

In addition to hiking, kayaking, and observing the wildlife, Katmai National Park is a very popular spot for sport fishing.

•  Parc Omega — Montebello, Quebec, Canada. Canada’s landscape provides ample wildlife viewing, but VirtualTourist members reported seeing great numbers of different animals at Parc Omega in the Province of Quebec. The park is located in Montebello, about 82 miles from Montreal and 50 miles from Ottawa. A 6.2 mile driving path is open year round and a great idea for families.

By tuning your radio to 88.1 FM, you can learn more about the animals and the habitat during that time of year. From the safety of a vehicle, visitors will see bison, elk, black bears, red deer, and both timber and arctic wolves. The park also provides walking and hiking trails that are protected and contain only non-aggressive animals.

•  Volcans National Park — Rwanda. Only 850 mountain gorillas inhabit the world, and 300 of them live in a country as small as the state of Maryland. High in the mountains of Volcans National Park in Rwanda are 18 mountain gorilla groups, ten of which can be visited by tourists.

Permits are required to visit the groups, so VirtualTourist members suggest applying well in advance, especially if you plan on visiting during a peak time. Another consideration: Since groups range in their location, visiting one group might take only a short walk through a forest, but seeing another group might require a 1 1/2-hour trek through dense growth. However, members say that visiting the gorillas is an experience of a lifetime.

It’s also worth noting that it is a significantly shorter trek to their location in Rwanda than in the two other countries where they can be found, Uganda and Congo.

•  Kruger National Park — South Africa. Encompassing almost 5 million acres and straddling two different regions of South Africa, Kruger National Park is one of the most famous places in the world to see wildlife in action. Along with the Serengeti, it is also one of the best locales for spotting the “Big Five.” One unique aspect of Kruger National Park is that it’s a self-drive game park, meaning visitors can pick up maps at every park entrance and navigate for themselves, taking their time and stopping whenever they want. However, if you want a guided tour, there are game walks and drives, hikes, and even mountain bike routes for exploring the park.

The South African winter months, from May to September, are best for game viewing since the grass is low, making it easier to spot game. VirtualTourist members also recommended at least one night drive or safari since some animals, like leopards, are nocturnal.

•  Osa Peninsula & Tortuguero National Park — Costa Rica. Few places are both accessible and filled with tropical wildlife, so Costa Rica is an easy bet for some great wildlife sightings. VirtualTourist members suggested two spots for great animal viewing: the Osa Peninsula and Tortuguero National Park.

The Osa Peninsula, located on the Pacific side of the country, is one of the few places where you can spot the Scarlet Macaw in the wild. The forest canopies of Corcovado National Park supposedly have the largest concentration of macaws in Central America so visitors should keep a look out for these majestic birds.

Bordering the Caribbean Sea, Tortuguero National Park is located near Costa Rica’s northeast border with Nicaragua. Members described exploring the canals into the park by boat, from which they were able to spot toucans, monkeys, sloths and other animals. Another recommendation is to take a guided walking tour at night.

Tortuguero National Park is also a sanctuary for nesting sea turtles. Although the green turtle is the primary focus, hawksbill and leatherback turtles are also tagged and counted by the conservation corporation. The green turtle nesting season occurs from July through October with late-night tours to see turtles lay eggs. Since the beach is closely monitored during this season, you must have a guide and members recommend signing up early if you’ll be visiting during this time.

•  Punta Tombo — Chubut Province, Argentina. Along with its majestic nature, Patagonia offers unique opportunities to see animals. Punta Tombo, located on the Argentine Sea in Chubut Province, is the best place to see Magellan Penguins within continental Patagonia. With more than a million and a half Magellan Penguins arriving to Punta Tombo every year to breed, you are bound to see quite a few!

Though the first penguins arrive in September and stay at Punta Tombo until mid-March, the time for optimal viewing is after November once the babies are born. In addition to the sheer volume of penguins, another unique factor is that visitors are allowed to get very close to the penguins, as long as they don’t disturb or touch them.

•  Hol Chan Marine Reserve — near Ambergris Caye, Belize. Only a short 20-minute boat ride from Ambergris Caye, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is one of the best places to snorkel in all of the Caribbean. Numerous snorkel and scuba aficionados remark that it is incredibly rare to see such a variety of wild fish in such shallow water, since most of the reserve is only 6 to 10 feet deep. Groupers, angelfish, and even eagle rays can be spotted regularly in this area. Within Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an area called Shark Ray Alley that is famous for its number of nurse sharks in the shallow 8-foot water. For years, local fisherman cleaned their catch just inside the reef, drawing a large number of nurse sharks and sting rays.

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