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Top 5 Unexpected Wildlife Destinations

by Martha Hales

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Look beyond the classic safari destinations to these alluring countries where wildlife may not be the headline act, but deserves to be. From leopards in Iran to wolves in Ethiopia, there’s a whole world of unexpected wildlife out there to discover.   

LeopardSri Lanka 
Although only 20% of Yala National Park is accessible to visitors, there is nevertheless a great deal of wildlife to look out for. Leopards are the most sought-after of the mammals present within the park, and you have a good chance of spotting one because the concentration of leopards per square kilometre is the highest in the world. The bird life here is another big draw for visitors as Sri Lanka is an important stopover for many migratory birds. There can be as many as 130 species present in the park during the northern hemisphere's winter months. Elephants are also abundant (and frequently spotted). Other species to look out for include langur monkeys, mongooses, spotted deer, sloth bears, crocodiles and porcupines. Sri Lanka also offers the chance to go on a whale watching trip (November-April is the best season for sightings) around Mirissa in the south west.

Nicaraguanicaragua
With it's high level of rainforest cover, two coasts and tropical climate, Nicaragua is home to a staggering number of species. Best places to see wildlife in this relatively undiscovered Central American gem include the La Flor wildlife reserve for turtle nesting, the highland reserve of Miraflor for birdwatching and howler monkeys and Indio-Maiz wildlife reserve for four elusive species of wild cat, 200 species of reptile, and 400 species of bird. For a rich swathe of plant life, the Mombacho cloud forest reserve is unbeatable. The ecosystem hosts more than 800 species of plant including numerous bromeliads, orchids and many other colourful flowers.

Iran
The mountains of Iran shelter an unexpected wealth of wildlife. At the crossroads between the temperate forests of Europe and the deserts of the Middle East, there is an exciting mixture of habitats, and consequently a great diversity of species. As the last stronghold of both the Asiatic cheetah and the Persian leopard, Iran is beginning to take conservation more seriously, and there are now more than 90 National Parks. In the Alborz mountains there are many exotic mammals, some easier to track down than others. Look out for foxes, Syrian brown bears, Persian fallow deer, Indian wolves and the elusive (and endangered) Persian leopard.

Ethiopia wolf
From the giant lobelias found near the peaks to the busy troops of gelada baboons picking through the meadows, the Simien Mountains National Park is a wildlife highlight of Ethiopia. There are Ethiopian wolves here, though they are incredibly rare. The lammergeier is less elusive and can often be spotted wheeling near cliffs. Gelada baboons are very numerous and quite easy to track down, but the endangered and endemic Walia Ibex is not as readily spotted. The Bale Mountains National Park is the other refuge of the Ethiopian wolf (and home to the highest population numbers). In this wildlife wonderland, the chances of spotting Colobus Monkeys are quite high and there is abundant bird life such as the endemic blue winged goose. Butterflies are particularly numerous here and the variety of species is mind blowing - more than 22,000 have been recorded in this region.

Argentina
Esteros del Ibera in the north of Argentina is the world’s second largest body of fresh water and a thriving wildlife hub. It is best known for birdwatching possibilities and hosts more than 300 species including large raptors and vultures. This pristine area is also home to countless Capybara and Caiman. The Valdes Peninsula is a barren outcrop of land that supports little vegetation, but the interest here does not involve land mammals. The relative calm of these bays encourages marine mammals to stay a while and, from May to October, this includes the Southern Right Whales who come to breed. Year-round, colonies of sea lions and elephant seals are another major draw, and there are often dolphins, orcas and penguins in these waters too. There is a good variety of sea birds who use the peninsula as a base for fishing.


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