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Sustainable bucket list guide for wildlife lovers

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Nothing beats witnessing the world’s animals in their natural habitat – it’s one of the most alluring reasons to travel the world. As strong as our desire to catch sight of these magnificent animals up close, however, should be our drive to protect these species and their natural environment. No matter the wildlife experiences on your travel bucket list, choosing sustainable activities that contribute to wildlife conservation is all part of being a world-minded traveler – and those are the experiences that we and our partners will always get behind.

Read on for our best bucket list wildlife experiences, from spotting mountain gorillas to butterflies; sloths to Bengal tigers. These enriching tours grant memories to last a lifetime, but also strive towards animal and habitat conservation, as well as benefitting the local communities.

Seeing orangutans up close in Borneo

The instantly recognizable red-haired apes, the orangutans, are some of the world’s most at-risk creatures due to loss of their natural habitat. Native to Borneo in Malaysia and also Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, their numbers have sharply declined over the last 100 years. 

With this context, the rare occurrence of seeing wild orangutans in Borneo can be deeply profound – you may get lucky on a tour of the Kinabatangan River or if you have more time, the Danum Valley. But as these areas are rapidly depleting due to deforestation at the hands of the palm oil industry, your safest bet of seeing orangutans is in conservation centers.

Our local partners in Malaysia offer trips to Sepilok Orangutan Centre, where orphaned orangutans are rehabilitated before being introduced back into the wild. Here you can watch the closest species to humans play, feed and interact with each other – in playgrounds, on feeding platforms, or dangling from overhead tree branches. You can also walk the trails through protected areas of rainforest, scanning the canopy to spot these remarkable fuzzy-haired apes roaming in safety. 

Baby orangutan swinging in the trees

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Known as one of the most iconic and biodiverse realms of underwater life we have, Australia’s magnificent Great Barrier Reef has sadly been at risk for decades, due to a combination of climate change, overfishing, and an excess of tourist activity. Australia’s government has gone to great lengths to protect the more than 130,000 sq mi of marine ecosystems, including 2,900 reefs and 900 islands. Today, tourism is strictly monitored so that diving and snorkeling trips to the reef actually contribute to its conservation, rather than hinder it.  

Our partners in Australia offer trips to explore specific sections of the reef, so that areas under the most threat have space to recover. These snorkeling or diving trips in Great Barrier Reef are often launched from Cairns, and grant the chance to spot myriad coral and marine creatures. This usually includes the canonical ‘Great Eight’ of the water: clownfish, manta rays, sharks, turtles, seahorses, giant clams, potato cod and the Maori wrasse. Thankfully, due to the thorough action of sustainable initiatives, tourists will hopefully have many more years to witness and protect these vibrant underwater lands.

Turtle against the coral of the Great Barrier Reef

The epic biodiversity of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a spectacular range of flora and fauna – 500,000 species, in fact – and offers some of the most impressive biodiversity on the planet. 

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that there’s a significant number of protected national parks and wildlife reserves based here. The tiny Central American nation has long led the charge in ecotourism, and is way ahead of the game when it comes to using tourist activity to fund local community initiatives and wildlife conservation. 

When on a bespoke trip to Costa Rica, you’ll have wild and wonderful things to tick off your wildlife bucket list. The unique climate and ecosystem of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, for instance, is home to the resplendent quetzal, howler monkeys, sloths, and several species of rare frogs and butterflies. Tortuguero National Park is a critical nesting site for the protection and hatching of sea turtles – such as green turtles, leatherback and hawksbill – and in season, visitors can watch the mother turtles laying their eggs on the beach. Those visiting Corcovado National Park, with its array of habitats such as rainforests, mangroves and lagoons, directly contribute to the protection of the resident jaguars, tapirs and harpy eagles. 

Get in touch with our local experts in Costa Rica to arrange a tour that fulfils your wildlife bucket list dreams.

Sloth in the trees

Mountain gorilla-trekking in Uganda

The miraculous sight of mountain gorillas wandering their dense forest habitat is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Due to habitat loss, poaching, and various other threats such as political strife and contraction of human diseases, gorillas are critically endangered. Sustainable tourism initiatives have gone a long way towards the protection and conservation of these magnificent creatures, as well as creating jobs and awareness, and boosting the economy within local Ugandan communities. 

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the primary place to go mountain gorilla-trekking in Uganda. Days start early, with treks led by highly experienced local guides who know exactly how the gorillas behave. The government has ensured tourist numbers are strictly regulated by offering a limited number of permits per year, and one small tourist group will track one gorilla family per outing.

It’s almost certain you’ll see gorillas on one of these tours, but once you find them, you’ll stay for around an hour only to ensure the gorillas’ comfort. Most report their surprise at how close they come to the gorillas, and what a soul-stirring experience it is. It’s also a fantastic example of how to strike the delicate balance between tourism and sustainability.

Get in touch with our local travel experts in Uganda (or Rwanda) to chat about arranging this sensational wildlife experience – which can also include spotting chimpanzees and other primates.

Gorilla moving through the forest

Spotting Bengal tigers in India

India is home to the sublime Bengal tiger, one of the most endangered big cat species, and many visitors hope to spot this elusive creature as part of a customized trip to India. Project Tiger, started in the 70s by the government in India, was set up in response to the Bengal tiger’s declining population due to poaching, deforestation, logging and human conflict. Many areas of the tigers’ natural habitat are protected, and conservation centers and wildlife reserves have been set up to fund ecotourism.

Tourists looking to spot tigers usually head to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, due to its easy inclusion on a classic Golden Triangle tour of India. Visitors can take a guided jeep tour across the vast grasslands and forests of the park, where tigers are seen relaxing, stalking and swimming – alongside leopards, hyenas and over 250 species of birds. 

Though Ranthambore is one of the most popular tiger hubs, tiger-spotting opportunities are scattered across India. There’s the truly scenic Bandipur National Park in the south; Kanha Tiger Reserve, often cited as the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; and Sundarbans National Park in West Bengal, where you can traverse the atmospheric mangrove forests along the Ganges Delta, spotting tigers by boat. 

To seek tigers while contributing to the protection of their species and environment, discuss your ideal India itinerary with our locally-based travel experts. 

Tiger lurking in the forest

Island-hopping the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galápagos Islands are probably near the top of your bucket list if you travel for sensational wildlife encounters. This wild and wonderful archipelago, famously favored by Charles Darwin, is essentially a large-scale observation lab – with flora and fauna that is truly unforgettable. Endemic species such as the Galápagos giant tortoise, marine iguana and blue-footed boobie birds inhabit the craggy volcanic coastline, for otherworldly sightings aplenty. 

Truly experience the unique species here by island-hopping the Galápagos for a week or more. Look out for turtles, sea lions and penguins on the Tintoreras islands; in San Cristóbal, watch frigate birds bathing in the freshwater crater lake of El Junco volcano; and be charmed by the flamingo lagoons on Isabela. In Santa Cruz, you can learn more about the strong scientific legacy of the Galápagos at the Charles Darwin Research Station. 

Seals sunbathing on the beach

Make it happen

If you’re ready to pack your binoculars for wildlife-viewing galore, get in touch with our locally-based travel experts across the world today.

  1. Borneo, Malaysia
  2. Australia
  3. Costa Rica
  4. Uganda
  5. India
  6. Galápagos, Ecuador

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