For a truly memorable travel experience get up close and personal with some of the animal kingdom’s most impressive members. Here we’ve highlighted some of the best wildlife experiences on offer, from walking with lions in Zimbabwe to cuddling pandas in China.
Walk with lions in Zimbabwe
The thrill of spotting your first lion on safari is truly memorable, and while seeing these big cats in their natural environment is a truly fascinating experience nothing quite compares to walking side by side a young lion. At Antelope Park in Zimbabwe, home to the famous ALERT rehabilitation programme, ‘up close and personal’ takes on a whole new meaning. Here travellers can walk with hand-reared lion cubs through the wilderness while learning about their natural environment and conservation efforts to ensure the survival of the species. Alternatively, visit the Born Free centres in South Africa – home to rescued lions and leopards, or get to know the friendly cheetahs at the Cheetah Park in Namibia.
Spot tigers in India
With few places left in the wild where you can still catch a glimpse of this rare and enigmatic big cat, spotting a tiger in its natural environment can be a truly unforgettable experience. One of the best places in the world to catch a flash of stripes through jungle undergrowth is India. With over 20 tiger reserves dotted across the country and the highest density of tigers in the world, your patience is sure to pay off here. Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore and Kanha are prime tiger conservation areas and offer the best opportunities for a sighting, while outside of India, Chitwan National Park in Nepal is a wonderful place to spot this elusive creature.
While it is thought that more than 1500 giant pandas still live in the wild, they are a shy animal and rarely seen. If you are looking for a close encounter with this endangered species you can visit one of China’s many breeding or research centres, which are dedicated to ensuring the survival of the species. The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Centre is an excellent example. Spread over 92 acres, the centre been designed to replicate the natural habitat and diet of the Giant Panda, and is staffed by researchers and experts. Here travellers can see pandas in the park grounds, visit the nursery for an up close view of the centre’s infant population or for an extra fee cuddle with one of the giant creatures and snap a photo or two. Another research centre worth visiting is the Shaanxi Rare Wildlife Rescue & Breeding Centre near Xi’an.
While most encounters with elephants are limited to game drives, in Sri Lanka travellers can get up close and personal with the world’s largest land mammal at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. First established in 1975, the centre provides care to abandoned and orphaned Indian elephants, many of which come to the orphanage as calves. Here travellers can bottle-fed elephant calves, snap a photo or two, or follow the herd to a nearby river to see the magnificent creatures splashing and rolling in the water during bath time.
Meet mountain gorillas in Uganda
A close encounter with these majestic creatures is a once in a lifetime experience. For years mountain gorillas have been hunted and exploited by humans and today only 600 are thought to remain in the wild. The permits required to trek into the gorillas’ habitat have helped set up and finance patrols to protect the creatures from poachers, and continue to be a key factor in the survival of the species. Mountain gorillas can be observed in their natural habitat on a trek through the rainforests of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, or you can join a Gorilla Trek on many of our overland safaris.