The 10 best animal experiences that get you close to nature

Longtime nature nut Lizzie Pook finds the world’s best animal experiences for World Animal Day

Tuesday 02 October 2018 11:15 BST
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From witnessing a cheetah kill on the vast Serengeti plains to catching stags rutting in the Scottish Highlands, encounters with animals can be some of the most rewarding experiences around. In honour of World Animal Day (4 October), here are some of the most spectacular ways to see wildlife, from traditional safaris to off-the-beaten-track expeditions.

Orcas in Argentina

The orcas off the Peninsula Valdes in Argentina have learnt an incredible and grisly skill – they can catapult their bodies up the beach at high tide, to snatch squidgy seal pups in their jaws. The Patagonian nature reserve is a rugged place – filled with colonies of penguins and barnacle-encrusted humpbacks – but it’s this unusual killer whale behaviour that’s really remarkable.

There are many reasons to visit Patagonia – watching orcas preying on seals among them

Original Travel offers a two-week trip to Argentina, including a three-day visit to Peninsula Valdes, starting from £5,950 per person

Spirit bears in Canada

The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is a haven for wildlife; a place where huge grizzlies fish for salmon and packs of coastal wolves den their pups. But there’s a ghostly creature that stalks the forests here: the sprit, or “kermode” bear. Actually a subspecies of black bear, this all-white animal is so elusive and rare that indigenous communities believe it has supernatural powers.

Find white spirit bears in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia

Magnetic North offers a four-night, all-inclusive trip, with accommodation at Spirit Bear Lodge from £2,995 per person

Stags in the Scottish Highlands

You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to see incredible wildlife. The Scottish Highlands’ national parks are home to elusive mountain hares, snowy white ptarmigans and three species of deer – red, fallow and sika. In autumn, the mountains are ablaze with colour and form a magnificent backdrop for rutting stags, which battle and roar from mid-September to November.

The Scottish Highlands are an animal playground: from stags and mountain hares to deer and grouse

You can self-drive around the parks or take a guided nature walk. Stay at The Torridon from £70 per person

Wolves in Spain

Deep within the mountains of northern Palencia you’ll find a landscape of sweeping ridges, tangled forests and broad valleys. The ancient villages that pockmark the hills are largely deserted, left for reclamation by roaming wolves, brown bears and wild boar. A trip on foot or by 4WD will give you one of the best chances of getting up close with wolf packs in Europe.

Northern Spain’s wild landscapes host Iberian wolves 

Nature Trek offers five-day trips from £995 per person

Snow leopards in the Himalayas

Northern India is home to one of the most elusive and majestic animals on the planet: the snow leopard. The animals have evolved to live in some of the harshest conditions on earth, such as the rocky mountains of Ladakh, so you’ll need an experienced guide to help you track the ghostly creatures across frozen rivers and into the folds of mountain valleys.

Blink and you’ll miss the Himalayan snow leopard

Pelorus offers an 11-day Searching for the Snow Leopard journey from £6,420 per person

Condors in Peru

Peru’s dizzying Colca Canyon – the second deepest in the world – is home to colossal silver-winged condors that soar above sleepy villages and Inca terraces in search of food. A birdwatching tour here will take you past grazing alpacas and below star-filled skies as you meander around 65km of switchbacks in search of the raptors.

Silver-winged condors fly high above Peru’s Colca Canyon

Rickshaw Travel offers a three-day tour from £238 per person

Jaguars in Brazil

Caiman Ecological Refuge in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands offers just about the closest thing you’ll find to an African-style safari in South America, but with the added bonus of being the only jaguar habituation project in the world. In this area, a whopping 99 per cent of visitors spot the normally elusive big cat, but unlike other popular jaguar spotting locations, you don’t have to share your sightings with hundreds of other people.

There’s an almost 100 per cent success rate to spotting jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal region

Audley Travel offers tailor-made trips to Brazil. A 13-day trip costs from £7,929 per person

Desert elephants in Namibia

Namibia is one of the only places on earth where you can find desert-adapted elephants. The country is also easily navigable and incredibly safe, making it the perfect self-drive safari destination. Incorporate a conservation trip into your journey and you can work with researchers in south Damaraland to track and study the elephants’ behaviour, and meet local farmers who play a vital role in the conservation of the country’s free-roaming wildlife.

Elephants in the desert? Only in Namibia 

Discover the World offers a nine-night Northern Namibia Highlights self-drive from £1,183 per person, including car hire

Polar bears in Svalbard

The best way to get around the icy waters of the Svalbard archipelago is via small ship safari. The bewitching arctic north is the perfect place for polar bear encounters – the animals can be spotted staining the ice crimson red with a seal kill or swimming the glassy waters. But be sure to keep your eyes peeled for colonies of elephantine walrus as well as other marine mammals including beluga and narwhal.

Norway’s Svalbard archipelago is a great place to spot polar bears

Natural World Safaris offers small-ship Svalbard trips starting from £7,295, excluding international flights

Chimps in Tanzania

A chimp sighting on Tanzania’s Rubondo Island is truly special. In the 1960s, German zoologist Grizmeck wanted to create a Noah’s Ark haven from poaching, so he moved over six elephants from the mainland, a herd of giraffe and then rescued 16 chimps from zoos and circuses in Europe and gave them a safe home on the uninhabited island. It’s now seen to be the only successful reintroduction of chimps into the wild in the world.

Tanzania has the big five safari animals – and chimps

A three-night stay at Asilia’s Rubondo Island Camp costs from £1,618 per person

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