While a zoo definitely has it’s place in animal watching, it doesn’t compare to seeing animals in their own natural habitat. After a recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, this felt especially true for me. A traffic jam caused by young buffalo calves and their mothers crossing the road is an experience not to be missed. It made me wonder about other places that would be conducive to viewing wildlife in a natural setting. From my research I have come up with a list of some of the best places to visit if viewing animals in nature is your objective.
In the United States, national parks are the best place to start. For viewing sea animals, the best places include the Channel Islands off the coast of California. The islands are surrounded by sea lions, seals, gray whales and humpback whales. There are also numerous tide pools that house creatures such as sea urchins and anemones. Another area great for water animals is Glacier Bay in Alaska. Humpback whales and sea lions are in abundance off shore and on land bears and moose are often times available for viewing. For a different spin on water creatures, visit the Florida Everglades, the last remaining everglades on the planet. There you will see crocodiles and alligators co-exists along with turtles, dear, manatees and bobcats. The everglades contain large viewing towers that are devoted especially to wildlife watching or you can be a bit more daring and take a canoe ride in croc-infested waters.
Other national parks that make the list for best wildlife viewing are Denali National Park in Alaska, Glacier National park in Montana, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Denali, Glacier and Rocky Mountain offer animals such as dall sheep, grizzlies, caribou, wolves, mountain goats, elk, dear, bighorn sheep and marmots. Theodore Roosevelt is a less well known park and therefore offers great viewing of bison, wild horses, deer and elk without all the crowds.
Outside of the US, there are more exotic animals available for viewing at places such as Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, the Komodo Islands in Indonesia, Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo, Polar Bear Observation in Canada, and of course a Kenyan Safari.
The Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica is a brilliant rain forest that contains over 100,000 acres of land and 5,000 acres of marine habitat. The park is home to 116 species of amphibians and reptiles, 139 species of mammals and more than 400 species of birds. There are no roads into the park, only hiking trails. Unless you are an avid hiker and have excellent map-reading skills, a guide is recommended. In addition to the trails, there are also viewing platforms built atop massive ajo trees.
The Komodo Islands in Indonesia house the world’s largest population of Komodo dragons. These animals can grow to be over 300 pounds and up to nine feet in length. These islands are now an Indonesian national park and permits and tour guides are required, but they make the experience much more user-friendly (Komodo dragons aren’t in petting zoos for a reason). In addition to land tours, you can also take a sea kayak around the park and see coral reefs, fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo is one of the last places to see orangutans in their own natural habitat. Through an elaborate network of hiking trails, you can see the orangutans up close, swinging from branch to branch, suckling their young, or building nests to sleep. There are also orangutans in captivity which can be viewed. They are being rehabilitated before being returned to the wild. There are other jungle species as well that can be viewed in the orangutan jungle, including clouded leopards, civets, Malaysian sun bears, deer, numerous species of birds, and butterflies.
Nowhere can you see polar bears so up-close and personal as you can in Churchill, Manitoba. When Hudson Bay freezes, between October and November, this town is overrun with polar bears as they travel their migration path. In early winter, they even stop to dine on the region’s seal population. For more up close views, you can take a tundra buggy (a converted school bus) into the migratory packs for a quick day-trip. For longer exposure, there are tundra lodges that provide all day exposure to the bears in their native environment.
One of the most famous places to view wildlife is Kenya, and what better way to see it than on a safari. Safari’s can take you through the likes of Masai Mara National Park, Amboseli Game Reserve and Mt. Kilimanjaro to view lions, leopards, cheetahs, wildebeests, zebras, flamingos, black rhinos, giraffes and elephants. Safari’s range from less expensive options starting around $500.00 for an 8 day excursion to very luxurious safaris costing up to $9,000. Either way, you get to see what you like most…animals.