As we have all realized at some stage in our lives, we live in a weird and wonderful world that contains many fascinating creatures – some of which fairly boggle the mind. From close-up encounters with whales and dolphins, frolicking with flying foxes, dinner with vultures to an afternoon with some aardvarks, we’ve put together just a few amazing animal adventures you could experience on your next holiday!
First in the English dictionary, but hardly ever seen – the enigmatic aardvark
The aardvark is completely unique and is literally the only species in its order. Nocturnal and elusive, they are very rarely spotted. So where can you see these amazing animals? South Africa’s Samara Private Game Reserve offers an unprecedented opportunity to do so. Situated in a biodiversity hotspot in the Great Karoo less than an hour’s drive from historical Graaff-Reinet, this luxury safari game lodge is as passionate about conservation as they are the comfort of their guests.
The reserve is home to a significant number of these elusive creatures. Normally nocturnal, at Samara they will actually emerge from their underground burrows during broad daylight during the winter months. They do this because their preferred food source, ants and termites, of which they can consume truly staggering numbers, (figures of 50,000 per sitting are bandied about!) are more active during the warmer daylight hours and therefore easier for the animals to find. In keeping with their conservation ethic, Samara has cooperated with research about aardvark that has already resulted in an academic paper that proves that aardvark do in fact drink water!
Swim with Hector’s dolphins, kayak with seals and find an elusive kiwi bird in New Zealand
Named after an acclaimed Scottish naturalist, Sir James Hector, these dolphins are the smallest in the world – they could fit in a bathtub! They frequent the seas around South Island and at Akaroa, less than two hours’ drive from Christchurch, where you are virtually guaranteed to be able to swim with these gregarious and playful creatures. They seem to be as interested in us as we are in them – and simply love people swimming with them.
And continuing your energetic holiday, you can go walking in New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park where you can also have a kayaking adventure to meet the fur seals on Tonga Island. Go whale watching off Kaikoura where you have an excellent chance of seeing the world’s largest toothed predator, the sperm whale, as well as humpback and southern right whales, pilot whales, and even, if you are extremely fortunate, blue whales, the largest creature ever to inhabit this Earth.
The flightless Kakapo parrot
And a visit to Zealandia Ecosanctuary, just outside Wellington, might well afford you the opportunity to not only see that most amazing of parrots, the flightless kakapo, as well as the iconic kiwi bird, also flightless and New Zealand’s national bird – during a night visit, of course, as they are both nocturnal.
Dinner in Spain – with vultures!
Most people nowadays acknowledge the crucial role that vultures play in sustaining a healthy ecosystem and are concerned about them being threatened, most notably by lead and other toxins in the carrion that they feed on. At the village of Fuentespalda in Aragon, Spain, an enlightened local naturalist has been feeding endangered vultures for close on 20 years and hundreds of them fly in to benefit from his generosity in safety. Visitors can watch the amazing spectacle of these huge and impressive raptors feeding from a hide.
Fruit bat safari, Zambia
Towards the end of October, mango, waterberry, wild loquat and milkwood trees fruit in profusion in the Mushitu swamp forest in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park. And more than ten million fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, fly in from the Congo basin for this annual feast. For a period of about six weeks they positively gorge themselves on the bounty of the seasonal fruit. Seeing these large, honey-colored bats with their impressive three-foot wingspan disperse at dusk against the vivid tones of the setting sun is truly one of Africa’s most memorable sights.
Snorkel with jellyfish, Palau Island
We’ve always been a little scared of jellyfish, right? Particularly since we heard about the positively deadly box jellyfish found in the seas off Australia. But in Palau, about 800 km east of the Philippines, in Ongeim’l Tketau lake, there is a jellyfish that you need not be scared of at all – the beautiful golden jellyfish!
Millions of them undertake a daily one-kilometer migration towards the sun in the morning, and retrace their route in the afternoon. They are completely free of the stings that can harm swimmers – meaning you can go snorkeling with them! It makes for a truly unforgettable experience, swimming surrounded by literally millions of beautiful golden globes that propel themselves by pulsing gently along.