Mike Unwin: You want wildlife on demand? Prepare to be disappointed

Something to Declare

"Disappointed!" Kevin Kline's clenched-teeth fury in A Fish Called Wanda – his character, Otto, having just discovered an unexpectedly empty safe – encapsulates how I felt as I struggled out of my wet suit.

My disappointment concerned a fish. Or rather, the absence of a fish. I was in South Australia's Neptune Islands, world capital of the great white shark. I had spent much of the day dangling in a cage off a small boat. Seeing a great white was a lifetime's ambition. Lowering myself into the water, anticipating at any second the planet's ultimate predator to come ghosting out of the murk, had been spine-tingling. But nothing doing. Not even a fin.

The day wore on. Up on deck, with the prospect of failure looming ever larger, we avoided one another's eyes. Our skipper's account of how last time out they'd had three sharks around the boat all day ("Real monsters!") didn't help. It seems we'd picked the wrong day.

I tried to be grown up. Claimed I appreciated how these things are never guaranteed and that it had, nonetheless, been great to spend the day in such a beautiful spot with a crew determined to do things the right way, notably by refusing to use bait. "Great?" Who was I kidding? I'd flown halfway around the world for this. The YouTube clips showed everyone else got lucky, so why had fate singled out me? In the film, Otto had vented his rage on the safe in a hail of moronic bullets. But I could only glower at the cage.

But it's not just me. Years ago, working at a safari lodge in Zambia, I would watch punters return to camp stony-faced when they hadn't seen a lion. Forget the elephants, giraffes and countless other creatures they'd enjoyed, not to mention the sheer privilege of swanning around in glorious wilderness, a lion-less game drive was a failed game drive. I seethed at their lack of imagination. How could they reduce this fabulous experience to some celebrity animal tick-list?

This is the dilemma at the heart of the wildlife travel industry. The appeal of wildlife is in the name – ie, it's wild – and explains why we splash out on safaris even though we'd have much better views in a zoo. An element of chance, of beating the odds, is essential. Without the possibility of not seeing the wildlife, seeing it would be far less exciting. Yet unless we get lucky – as Harriet O'Brien did with tigers in India (see pages 76-77) – we feel cheated. Especially when we've paid big bucks.

I blame the marketing. We all expect to see what's on the cover of the brochure, after all. Television doesn't help, with all those kills and copulations in close-up.

Perhaps we'd all be better off approaching wildlife-watching on a more holistic level: appreciate the setting, the all-round experience and so on. Personally, for my own mental health, I've already drawn up a new wildlife "miss list". One day, with luck, I'm hoping to not-quite-glimpse an orang-utan in Borneo, miss by seconds a snow leopard in Ladakh and maybe – just maybe – get stuck in the toilet while blue whales cavort around my cruise ship in the Sea of Cortez.

Disappointed? Me? Never again.

Mike Unwin's latest book, the "Bradt Guide to Swaziland" (Bradt Travel Guides), is out now

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee