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In a wide world full of diversity, there are many amazing wildlife-based holidays to be had. Here we've rounded up our five favourite animal experiences, the best we think the planet has to offer, from the jungles to the plains and wide-open seas.
Tiger Tours in Northern India
The tiger is the true king of the big cats and its endangered and mythical status makes it even more intriguing for the animal enthusiast. The indescribable awe - that mixture between wide-eyed-wonder and frozen-to-the-spot fear – that accompanies a close 'meeting' with this mightiest of mammals is a feeling many of us dream of.
Since these magical creatures became so rare, tiger conservation has thankfully gone into overdrive, and so the best way to see them in the wild is at one of India’s national parks/reserves. Two of the best, Jim Corbett National Park and Ranthambore National Park, are in the north of the country (the Bengal tiger's natural habitat) with relatively easy access from Delhi. Corbett Park is also one of the few reservations with onsite accommodation, and offers suggestions of customisable 'Tiger Trail' tours. While tiger spotting generally requires a lot of time and patience, both these parks are additionally blessed with an almost unfathomable array of animals, including leopards, crocodiles, rare species of deer and an abundance of beautiful birdlife.
Visit the Orangutans in Borneo
Our other favourite (and more friendly) orangey endangered animal is of course the orangutan. Once again, for most people to see such a creature in its home surroundings requires something of a trip, but what a trip! The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where orphan orangs are reared ("survival training") for release into the wild, is one of the marvels of modern conservation and sightings are guaranteed at feeding time.
The main draw of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, may be our furry primate cousins, but it's a heaven-on-earth location anyway, with diverse flora and fauna and almost endless adventure opportunities amongst its mountains, jungle and beautiful beaches. If you’re wowed by wildlife and want to get really close to nature, make it more than a daytrip and stay at the Sepilok Nature Resort, just 5 minutes from the centre.
The Great Migration
Wildebeest (gnu) may not be among the world’s prettiest animals, but along with several thousand (more aesthetically pleasing) zebra, they are part of what is arguably nature’s greatest spectacle, The Great Migration. This annual event is not just something to see, but also hear and feel as more than a million sets of hooves rumble across the plains of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania, up to Kenya’s Maasai Mara.
Like most natural phenomena, the migration runs to a slightly unpredictable schedule. However, its circular nature and the sheer volume of the herds, mean the chances of a good safari experience are high between July and October. Perhaps the most spectacular sights are the crossings of the Grumeti (Tanzania, around July) and the Mara (Kenya, around September) rivers, where the real life-and-death drama of it all unfolds.
Swim with the Dolphins of Kaikoura
Swimming with dolphins: it's one of those classic things-to-do-before-you-die clichés, but it's true and the Kaikoura Dolphin Experience is the one, the real deal. This is true eco-tourism, done, as the organisers put it "on the dolphins' own terms", in their own environment with no artificial enticement. Luckily, for the visitor no such underhand tactics are necessary, as the coastline around Kaikoura, on New Zealand’s South Island is teaming (podding?) with the dusky dolphins, a highly sociable species, known for showing off their acrobatic skills.
Tours with the Experience are open to passive viewers as well as swimmers, but who'd want to miss an open ocean experience with such unusual and intelligent company?
The Great Grizzly Getaway
Beautiful British Columbia is Canada's adventure paradise, full of unspoiled and unending wilderness and the primary place to see North America’s most famous and formidable land predator, the grizzly bear. The best way to see them is to take a seaplane from gorgeous Vancouver Island to the remote edges of the Great Bear Rainforest and stay for a few days in their neck of the woods. There, surrounded by conifers and coastal waters, at either Grizzly Bear Lodge on Knight Inlet or at the Great Bear Lodge, you can take daily trips with the experts and get to know the grizzlies (at close hand but from a safe enough distance). Tours are carefully organised around the bears' seasonal habits, but the prime time is autumn, with good chances for furry fishing action as the salmon make their annual run.
The forest is also home to black bears, grey wolves, otters and bald eagles, while the waters around Vancouver Island are noted for whale – including killer whale - watching opportunities as well as sea kayaking.
Of course, the above are just our personal picks, what are yours? Any tips or recommendations for animal adventures? Please let us know in the comments below.
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About the author: andrewAndrew Bowman
Andrew is an occasional contributor to the Virgin Atlantic blog. He lived in the Japanese countryside for two years until he could no longer resist the pull of London's galleries, pubs and clubs. He likes to pretend he can speak Japanese and also sometimes writes about music.