“If you look at little kids and wild animals, these are two groups of things that whenever I’m with them forces me to be in the moment.” – Dominic Monaghan
Some say you never forget the first time you hear a wild lion roar. It’s true.
Traveling gives us the chance to enjoy seeing unique animals we otherwise wouldn’t. Sometimes we view them on special safari-type excursions; other times it’s a purely random encounter. From game drives, birding trips, and national park visits to whale-watching, I’m blessed to have seen a variety of wildlife in diverse habitats. Far more than just spotting, I’ve sat transfixed and mesmerized while observing their behavior.
Here’s my list of favorites:
5. Pantanal in Mato Grosso, Brazil – At the end of a multi-day excursion which included sightings of tapirs, caimans, capybaras, parrots, anaconda, an anteater and even a jaguar, our guide saved the best for last. On a short boat ride along a murky river, he suddenly became excitedly agitated and began making a bizarre noise that sounded something like a deranged donkey. As he “hee-hawed” away, two giant river otters, with heads as big as basketballs, suddenly popped up right beside me!
4. Aruba, Caribbean Sea – Before scuba diving an old wrecked tugboat, our guide warned us about a huge moray eel that lived inside the smokestack. I was a bit apprehensive, but still wanted to see it. During the dive, I floated safely above the stack to spot a giant green head with countless teeth grinning up at me. It was scary enough to keep me drifting along. Another couple wanted a close-up photo and pointed a swim fin toward the eel, but our divemaster sternly warned them “No!” with a shake of the finger. Thankfully, they (the divers AND the eel) retreated.
3. Victoria, Canada – Whales are my favorite animal, and I’ve been blessed to spot them in Antarctica, Portugal, and even from shore in Australia and South Africa. A zodiac boat trip in Canada was my most memorable whale encounter, though. We sped out of Victoria harbor heading north toward an area where a pod of orcas had been spotted. After sitting and waiting, the orcas approached us while chasing a small porpoise. They playfully tossed it about, but didn’t eat it. At one point a large orca swam right under out boat and rolled to display its bright white belly. As we gasped in disbelief, the boat captain shouted, “Wow! The trip of a lifetime!” We agreed.
2. Kruger Park, South Africa – My friend Don, studying to be a game ranger, invited us to spend the night in a remote camp sometimes used by Kruger’s anti-poaching patrols. There were no fences, no electricity and no other people. Late that night while relaxing by the campfire, we heard a strange sloshing sound. Glancing back, we saw a huge bull elephant, with its trunk arched over the edge of a circular concrete water tank, slurping and drinking in the darkness. Unforgettable.
1. Dances with Wolves, Yellowstone National Park – A large bear crossing the road just ahead of us in the pre-dawn darkness was just the beginning. After arriving at Lamar Valley, we saw a few vehicles and a man with a spotting scope. It turned out to be local expert Rick McIntyre studying Yellowstone’s wolves. While a large grizzly bear was guarding a carcass, a group of wolves were working together to try and steal it. While a lone wolf sauntered in front to draw the bear’s attention, other wolves kept creeping up behind, setting off a coyote warning. The bear kept jostling back and forth, trying to defend its carcass. The sight and sounds of these three wild mammals facing off was truly special.
So, what’s your most memorable wild animal encounter?