The sight of an ambush of tigers stealthily stalking a herd of antelopes at the Tadoba Tiger Reserve is truly the experience of a lifetime. Relaxing in the balmy winter afternoon, a motley group of wildlife enthusiasts were in complete agreement on this but had varied responses when asked about other top draws across the world. Some descriptions:
The Great Migration, Tanzania / Kenya
Considered one of the greatest animal spectacles in the world, the sight of about a million wildebeest streaming out from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara Game Park is truly an animal encounter nobody can ever forget. The annual migration of the enormous bearded beasts happens when they travel to seek out greener pastures across the Sand River in the eastern part of the game reserve and travel westwards. The presence of thousands of zebras makes the sight even more remarkable as is the great assortment of predators like leopards, lions, and crocodiles who bide their time to pick off the weaker animals. As in many natural events, the timing of the migration is not exact; you can expect to see them anytime between July and September. What makes the sight memorable apart from the sheer numbers involved is the unpredictable and boisterous behavior that involves a lot of grunting, sudden stampedes, unexpected leaps, and bucking.
Mountain Gorillas, Central Africa
One of planet Earth’s most endangered species, Central Africa’s mountain gorillas are supposed to the closest relatives of mankind. Since they are habituated to humans, the money raised from visiting tourists is plowed back to ensure their survival. People who have taken the trouble and expense of getting near the mountain gorillas have vouched that looking into their eyes deeply is an experience that they will never ever forget. Since Uganda is more stable politically than Rwanda, it is a better bet for approaching the gorillas of which, there are four bands. Only six tourists are allowed each day to visit each band, which means across the entire country, a total of 24 people are allowed access. Consequently, gorilla permits even at $360 are a scarce commodity and need booking quite some time in advance. Visitors with any sort of infections are disbarred. Visits are almost impossible to organize by yourself so you need the assistance of a tour operator. However, do be careful to check out the inclusions and the exclusions.
The Amazon Rainforest, South America
The Amazon rainforest is the richest natural habitat still left largely unspoiled on planet Earth, but its enormous size and dense vegetation make spotting wildlife very difficult. The best way of approaching is by boat from Manaus, a thriving Brazilian metropolis surrounded by dense forests. Even then it takes more than a couple of days to reach the portion of the jungle that is untouched. The journey on the waters of Rio Negro is pretty comfortable with you ensconced in a top deck hammock, and not having to continually swat mosquitoes that surprisingly do not thrive there. The water level of the river is highest in May-June while the winter months see it at its lowest. It is best to arrive by plane from Sao Paulo or Rio and book your tour at one of the established operators in case you have not booked at the origin, but exercise caution as there are a lot of touts that can rip you off. Animal sightings can be rare even though the environment is stunning.
If you are one of those who’d prefer to see a lot of jungle wildlife, then a visit to Tadoba National Park is highly recommended.
Also known as the ‘Wild Man of Borneo’, orangutans are a must-see as it ranks very high on the region’s list of endangered species. Once found in much larger numbers, the population has been depleted due to a variety of factors such as excessive logging, illegal clearing of forests, and plantations of palm trees, not to speak of pollution. The best way of viewing and interacting with the animals is to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre that is close to Sandakan. The center houses orphaned or injured orangutans and takes care of them before they are released into the jungles. Unlike many jungle destinations, tourists can have a luxurious stay at one of the many air-conditioned chalets that have fabulous views of the jungle or the lake from the verandahs. While sightings of the wild orangutans can vary, visitors will normally not leave disappointed as usually they come to the feeding platforms where they also get up to a lot of antics. Twice a day, you can feed the ill or the babies with milk and bananas provided by the rangers. You can also learn a lot about these quaint animals by seeing the documentary screened after each feeding session.
Author bio: Evans walsh is a wildlife photojournalist who has received a number of awards for his outstanding work. You can view some of his photographs shot recently at Tadoba at http://tigersheavenresort.co.in/