Whether it’s eyeballing a lion on the plains of Africa or spying a quetzal in a Central American cloud forest, watching wildlife is a highlight of travel for many people.
Responsible tourism – that is, carefully considering the environmental, social and economic impact of your choices – has a big role to play in safeguarding such experiences for the benefit of all.
The United Nations’ World Wildlife Day on 3 March celebrates the beauty of the natural world, raises awareness of the benefits of conservation and highlights the threat of wildlife crime.
To mark it, we asked a handful of Lonely Planet staff to recall some of their most memorable encounters with animals in the wild.
Elephants in India
Trekking through Periyar National Park in Kerala, we’d already lost half our team to leeches. I covered myself in salt to deter them because I desperately wanted to see an elephant. Just as we were about to give up, a great crashing, snapping sound came from close by. Our guide’s eyes lit up – part terror, part excitement – and he stood us at the bottom of the jungle-covered hill while he ran off. One minute later he reappeared, followed by a spectacular elephant not 20 feet away.
Ellie Simpson – Traveller Comms Analyst. Follow her tweets @GutsyGrad.
Bald eagles in Canada
Every year, a winter salmon run attracts thousands of bald eagles to the rivers around Brackendale, British Columbia, and the small town becomes the ‘World Eagle Capital’. On a recent trip, I took an inflatable raft down one of the local rivers, and I discovered it’s an appropriate title: bald eagles were everywhere, roosting in the bare winter trees or pecking at salmon carcasses strung across the branches like strange Christmas ornaments. By the end of the two-hour trip, we’d counted over 50 of the majestic birds.
Alexander Howard - Destination Editor for Canada and Western US. Follow his tweets @AlexMHoward.
Whales in Madagascar
During our honeymoon in Madagascar we visited the small island of Ile aux Nattes. Stormy weather ruled out splashing around in the Indian Ocean so we spent a few days exploring the island on foot. One afternoon, we spotted the tail of a humpback whale just a few hundred feet from the beach. As we watched, this vast cetacean breached and crashed back into the water, then repeated the trick for over an hour. No photo could do it justice.
Tom Hall – Editorial Director. Follow his tweets @tomhalltravel.
Wallabies and more in Australia
I’ve been lucky to experience amazing animal encounters all over the world, but if there’s one kind that never gets old, it’s the incidental encounters in my hometown of Byron Bay, Australia. The last time I was home, for example, I was roused by a kookaburra’s cackle, spotted a pod of dolphins as I rounded the Cape, almost trod on a monitor lizard as I jogged towards the beach, and then shared precious moments of my jog along the sand with a wallaby.
Sarah Reid - Destination Editor for Southeast Asia. Follow her tweets @sarahtrvls.
Reindeer in Sweden
A trip on the Snötåget ('the snow train') at sunrise involved the locomotive routinely slowing and blowing its horn to clear the tracks of wildlife – most notably, wild reindeer! I’d expected to see captive reindeer during my trip to Sweden, but I never envisaged seeing a herd of them in their natural habit… and watching one running alongside the train, seemingly trying to keep up, was pure magic.
Laura Noiret – Moderation Team Leader.
Monkeys in Sri Lanka
Taking a break from elephant spotting in Uda Walawe National Park in Sri Lanka, I came face to face with a characteristically bold and nonchalant macaque, who was more than happy to pose for photos. While his friends invaded our safari jeeps, my monkey muse and I locked eyes, frozen in mutual fascination. Enchanted by the encounter, I had just a second to retreat as he tried to swipe my camera.
Emma Sparks – Deputy Editor, lonelyplanet.com. Follow her tweets @Emma_Sparks.
Rhinos in South Africa
I was on a self-drive safari in Kruger National Park, slowly working my way down a steep rocky track on the Steilberg Loop when I heard a sudden crash to my right. By the time I’d had a chance to turn my head, two white rhinos had burst from the bush, breaking branches as they went, and were a few metres from my door. I slammed my foot to the floor and accelerated enough that the pair narrowly missed hitting the back of the 4WD.
Matt Phillips – Destination Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa. Follow his tweets @Go2MattPhillips.
Manatees in Belize
My wife and I had spent a day snorkelling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize, where we saw loggerhead turtles, stingrays and nurse sharks. On the way back to shore our guide spotted a shadow in the water. Just a few metres below was a West Indian manatee, a rare marine mammal that looks like a friendlier version of a walrus. It didn't mind our presence at a distance, so we swam above it for 15 minutes. And then, with a swish of its spade-shaped tail, it was gone.
James Kay – Editor, lonelyplanet.com. Follow his tweets @jameskay123.
Top tips for the responsible traveller
- avoid destinations that are already over-crowded or travel in the off-season
- if travelling on a tour, choose operators that have robust responsible tourism policies
- abide by laws and regulations, especially in sensitive environments
- always observe the recommended rules for watching wildlife
- don’t buy souvenirs made from wild animal products
For more ideas on how to go green when you travel, visit our ecotourism page. Find out more about World Wildlife Day at wildlifeday.org. Had a memorable wildlife encounter of your own? We want to hear about it. Tweet @lonelyplanet with your travel tale, including the hashtag #WWD2016.