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Forget the zoo... 16 unique animals and where to best spot them in the wild!

8 March 2017

Forget the zoo... 16 unique animals and where to best spot them in the wild!

Everyone loves animals, right? It's kind of a universal fact.

There's nothing more exciting that catching sight of a creature in its natural habitat. Sniffing here, scratching there, hunting, sleeping, eating... just doing its thing, whatever its thing is.

If you're up for a wildlife adventure, here are your best options for getting up close and personal with these 16 unique creatures. Of course, no one can guarantee an animal sighting – we're talking wild creatures here. And that's what makes it so special.

What: Galapagos tortoise

Where: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Your best chance to spot them: The Galapagos tortoise resides on several islands in the Galapagos archipelago. Head into the highlands on Isla Santa Cruz for a good chance to see their large domes roaming in the wild.

Why they're great: They are like massive walking rocks with heads. They can weigh over 400 kilograms and are one of the longest living vertebrates, documented to have lived to over 170 years old.

What: Mountain Gorilla

Where: Rwanda and Uganda, East Africa.

Your best chance to spot them: Take a guided hike into the jungle in Parc National de Volcans in Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas in their native habitat.

Why they're great: The mountain gorillas are the largest living primate. Watching these huge human-like creatures interact within their close-knit family groups is a beautiful and humbling experience.

What: Lion

Where: Across Africa

Your best chance to spot them: Go on a game drive in one of Africa's magnificent game parks such as Kruger National Park in South Africa, Etosha National Park in Namibia or Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Why they're great: They are the king of the beasts and when you lay eyes on a male lion in the wild, you'll understand why. But you're most likely to see them at rest rather than on the prowl – they spend up to 20 hours a day lazing about.


What: Orangutan

Where: Malaysia and Indonesia

Your best chance to spot them: Borneo is the best place to search for orangutans, however they are critically endangered and hard to spot. If you are lucky, you might see them on a cruise down the Kinabatangan River. It's definitely worth visiting Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where rescued orangutans are being rehabilitated to return to the wild – you can watch them come in from the sanctuary jungle to retrieve food.

Why they're great: Orangutans are a real joy to watch – sometimes playful and hilarious, sometimes serious and thoughtful. Their dexterity moving through the jungle is astounding.


What: White Rhino

Where: Southern Africa

Your best chance to spot them: South Africa is home to the vast majority of southern white rhino. Head to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park or Kruger National Park in South Africa, Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland or Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana.

Why they're great: The white rhino is the largest extant species of rhino (and they are grey, not white at all). Rhinos seem like they are from a prehistoric era with their nose horns and tough hide – seeing them is like a quick visit back to the Jurassic.

What: Lemur

Where: Madagascar

Your best chance to spot them: Madagascar is the only option as lemurs are endemic to the island. Head to Isalo, Anadsibe and Ranomafana National Parks.

Why they're great: There are nearly 100 different species of lemur with all kinds of odd behaviours. They range in size from from the tiny mouse lemur to the large black and white indri, which is well known for its singing calls.


What: Andean Condor

Where: Throughout the South American Andes in Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia

Your best chance to spot them: Head to Colca Canyon in Peru for a good chance to spot condors soaring overhead. Further south, try the Torres del Paine area in Patagonia, Chile.

Why they're great: With a wingspan of up to 3.3 metres, the Andean condor is the biggest flying bird in the world, measured by combined weight and wingspan.


What: African Elephant

Where: Across eastern, central, western and southern Africa

Your best chance to spot them: You can see elephants in many game parks across Africa, but Chobe National Park in Botswana has one of the highest concentrations of elephants – a cruise down the Chobe River gives you a good chance of spotting a herd drinking and washing at the river's edge.

Why they're great: They are massive. Their molars weight 5kg each. And they have trunks, which are basically a nose and lip with fingers on the end – weird and definitely unique.


What: Grizzly Bear

Where: North America and Canada

Your best chance to spot them: Head to the National Parks of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, or coastal Alaska or Yellowstone National Park in North America.

Why they're great: The grizzly is the master of its domain, a massive creature that could easily overpower all other animals in the region – wolves and cougars will often surrender their prey to a grizzly.

What: King Penguin

Where: Subantarctic islands

Your best chance to spot them: Take an Antarctic cruise visiting South Georgia Island – there are 100,000 pairs of king penguins in residence in the South Georgia archipelago.

Why they're great: Penguins are adorable and kind of hilarious to watch as they shuffle about, but King penguins take it up a notch – at up to a metre tall, they are seriously huge and quite majestic.

What: Orca (killer whale)

Where: In oceans and seas around the world

Your best chance to spot them: On a voyage across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, or off the coast of Antarctica, Norway or the Pacific Northwest of USA and Canada.

Why they're great: Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. They communicate with each other about hunting tactics and work in groups to hunt their prey. Watching several orca working together, diving in unison, is like watching a choreographed performance.


What: Giant Panda

Where: Central China

Your best chance to spot them: It's very difficult to see the giant panda in the wild, in the remote mountains of central China. For the closest thing, you should head to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, located near the Chinese city of Chengdu. They have over 600 acres of natural habitat and a successful panda breeding program.

Why they're great: They are possibly the cutest creature on the planet with their black eyes and cuddly teddy bear shape. Plus, pandas can eat up to 14 kilograms of bamboo a day – that's pretty impressive bamboo consumption.


What: Giraffe

Where: Africa

Your best chance to spot them: Many African game parks have good giraffe populations. Try Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya or Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Why they're great: They are the tallest living animal. They have a kooky long neck which must be very awkward – just watch them try to bend down to get a drink from a waterhole.

What: Polar Bear

Where: the Arctic Circle

Your best chance to spot them: Take a sea voyage around the coast of Alaska, Baffin Island, Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland or through the North West Passage.

Why they're great: It's a big bear and it's white. What more do you need?

What: Bengal Tiger

Where: India, Bangladesh and Nepal

Your best chance to spot them: Take a game drive in Ranthambore National Park in northern India or Chitwan National Park in Nepal.

Why they're great: These majestic creatures are on the endangered list, so a sighting in the wild is something you would be extremely privileged to see. 


What: Hippopotamus

Where: Eastern and southern Africa

Your best chance to spot them: The waterways of eastern and southern Africa are your best bet – try the Okavango Delta in Botswana or the Rift Valley Lakes of Kenya.

Why they're great: Hippos are pretty huge (the third-largest land animal after elephant and rhino) and their closest living relative is the whale family. They look roly poly but they are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.