Over the past few years, I’ve developed a pretty intense love-affair with animals and wildlife and such. I find it down-right fascinating seeing these natural beauties in their unique environments, and gawf at every opportunity I can to see and interact with them. In recent years, I have ridden a camel in Israel, went scuba diving in Santorini (for the first time ever!), fallen off a donkey in the middle of the desert, searched for alligators in New Orleans, swam with sea turtles in both Maui and Belize, watched some butterflies mate, went on a manatee watch, snorkeled in the world’s second largest barrier reef, and marveled at a pod of dolphins following our boat in Kauai. Among many, many awesome experiences. Heck, I even snorkeled with sting rays and nurse sharks this past December! Basically, I’m up for anything when it involves some nature and wildlife! Currently on my animal bucket list: Swim with Manatees See the Big 5 (and Little 5) on a Safari in Africa Swim with whale sharks in Mexico Cage Dive with Great Whites Watch Penguins play on the beach See Flamingo’s in their natural habitat Play with elephants Since I hope to get some of these experiences under my belt soon, I asked some of my favorite bloggers to share their unique wildlife encounters they have had from around the globe (for some even more inspiration). It’s such a fascinating world out there- above and below the surface! Enjoy! If you’ve had an awesome wildlife encounter, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! 1) Moorey Eel and Spiny Starfish – True Nomads Theses dive photos were taken in Tofo, Mozambique, by Justin from True Nomads. The first is a moray eel at the ‘cleaning station’ – see the cleaner in his mouth- and the second is nearby of a cool starfish. Tofo is famous for it’s whale-sharks and giant manta rays,but many other cool fish species can be seen here as well! Durring Justin’s dives there in Tofo, he saw crazy stuff like colorful mantis shrimp, spotted eagle rays, angry clown fish and lazy turtles. The main attraction of course are the whale-sharks, which bring divers and marine biologists from all over the world. It’s definitely a place to check out! 2) Swimming with Sea Lions – Mapping Megan A visit to La Jolla Cove is a visit to California’s largest seal and sea lion population. Visually breathtaking, somewhat hidden with alluring curves and caves, La Jolla Cove is free and completely open to public access. Hundreds of seals and sea lions line the cliff faces, and visitors watch as they fight each other for the best spot on each rock, and as they suntan on the beach. Pack a wetsuit and some snorkel gear – you can go swimming and get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. No trip to California will be complete without visiting, and I guarantee you will never see a seal and sea lion colony anywhere like this in the world! Click for a video. 3) Riding Atop an Elephant – Berkeley and Beyond One of the most exciting animal encounters I’ve had is riding atop an elephant through a bit of Thailand. This was at a government-sponsored care facility for elephants. The animal was immense and it was nerve-wracking being so high up, but after a few minutes I just gave into enjoying the experience. I wish I could remember his name. I know people who have taken the mahout course and hope to do it myself next time I’m in town. Read more: http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2010/06/sights-to-see-elephants-lampang.html 4) Camel Riding Along the Nile River – Chasing the Donkey Camel riding along the Nile River, Egypt. Still to this day, one of my most amazing travel experiences. We spent a week cruising down the Nile, and we stopped at Luxor to take this ride. My camel was making all kind of strange noises, and I could not stop laughing, while my husbands camel was lagging far behind my own. Then all of a sudden he stopped fussing, and I rode him almost the entire way on my own, too engrossed in the scenery to stop. At the end I met up with my husband, and I love this photo as to me it looks like the camels are smiling 5) Ostrich Riding – The Traveluster If you ever find yourself in South Africa exploring The Garden Route, consider heading up to Oudtshoorn to ride an ostrich! Oudtshoorn (pronounced Oats-horn), South Africa is the ostrich capital of THE WORLD. Ostrich is a delicious, lean meat that is very popular in South African cuisine. Ostrich leather products are also a hot commodity. The ostrich farm tours (“shows”) are very interesting and informative. There are plenty of operators, like Cango Ostrich Farm Show and Highgate Ostrich Farm Show. We chose Safari Ostrich Farm Show, which didn’t disappoint. Read more about the experience here. 6) Kangaroo’s on a Picnic – Freelancers on the Road We had just arrived for our one month road trip along Australia’s east coast. We had never been to Australia before and were really looking forward to spotting some of its iconic wildlife. A friend invited us to stay in Wollongong for a few days and took us to stunning Jervis Bay for a picnic. We sat down to eat… and there it was! A wild kangaroo! We could not believe that it actually came that close (hoping to be fed). What a great start of our Australian adventure! 7) Baby Crocodiles in the Daintree River – Gallivant Girl While I was in Queensland, I took Daintree River cruise, eager to catch a glimpse of some wild crocs. There is never any guarantee you’ll see any, so I was nervous I wouldn’t. After a fruitless hour, it wasn’t looking good, but then, we spotted a baby croc, then another, then another, and yet another! There they were – four baby crocodiles, out enjoying the sun, under the watchful eye of their mother, hidden in the shadows. The guide said it was exceptionally rare to see so many, and I felt bloody lucky to have seen such a display; it was remarkable. 8) Spotting Lions on Safari – Green Global Travel “We had an amazing time during our visit to a private game reserve in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, with incredible animal sightings at every turn. But we also saw some impressive sights during our self-drive through the park, including galloping giraffes, begging hyenas, leaping impalas, huge families of baboons, and this beautiful male lion resting in the grass on the savannah.” –Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel & Green Travel Reviews 9) Feeding Swans – Guess This City In Ireland and the UK seeing wildlife that is different than what we have in Canada is not an easy task but there is one animal in Ireland that I have never seen in Canada – the majestic swan. Swans are everywhere in Ireland where there is fresh water. They can be very friendly if you have food (picture above) but if you come near them and they seem threatened they will attack. My best advice it to keep your distance and just enjoy them from afar because getting attacked by a swan is like getting hit with baseball bat! Read more: http://guessthiscity.com/family-swans-galway/ 10) Swimming with Whale Sharks – Short Travel Tips Would you love to swim with whale shark – the biggest fish in the world? I am sure you would love to if you are wildlife lover!!! It is amazing and unforgettable experience and you can do it in Western Australia. This photo was taken during my swim, but it is so difficult to express the feeling then right to you swims a creature of 7-10 meters long. Read More: http://www.shorttraveltips.com/swimming-with-whale-sharks-in-australia/ 11) Feeding Lemurs in Madagascar – A Lady in London When I visited Madagascar, I had the opportunity to feed lemurs on Nosy Komba, an island off the northwest coast. I arrived by boat and took a nature tour with a local guide before going to see the unique animals. Standing with my back to the tree they were on, I held a piece of banana in my palm. Within seconds, a lemur jumped on my shoulder and ate the banana from my hand. I was told not to touch the lemurs with my hands, but as it ate, I gently rubbed my cheek against its fur. It was so soft! Read More: http://www.aladyinlondon.com/2010/01/lady-at-tsarabanjina.html 12) Iguana sightings in the Rainforest – The Nomadic Family We had just finished one amazing day of volunteering at the Proyecto Asis Animal Rescue Center near La Fortuna, Costa Rica and were standing on the road with the kids hitchhiking for a ride back to our ranch home. There was no motion, no noise, nothing logical that compelled us to look up at the trees and find this treasure. He was regal and strong and exotic, and even had a bee friend with him. We feel truly blessed to have been able to meet this joy of nature. Read more: http://thenomadicfamily.com/2011/07/free-rainforest-exhibition 13) Up close and personal with Elephants – d travels ’round Thick, gray legs are all on sides of me as I sit in a thicket of grass, looking up, up, up at the towering elephants. It’s like nothing I have ever experienced, sitting amidst Elephant Nature Park’s family herd. Cross-legged next to the park’s founder, Sanguden “Lek” Chailert, we talk about elephant tourism in SE Asia and Thailand (where the sanctuary is located) as curious trunks rake our faces, our hair, in search of food. She laughs when the four-year-old Faa Mai places Lek’s tiny body under her legs. I go to move as the elephants come closer, their feet only inches from my body. Lek assures me I am safe since I am with her, and she is a part of the herd, therefore I am, too. I smile, relax a little and take in the majestic beauty of these animals, knowing in that very moment, my life would change forever. Being up-close with the elephants on this day catapults my life into an entirely different direction — a relocation to Chiang Mai and work with Lek and her foundation. 14) Protecting Baby Sea Turtles – The Vacation Gals A few years ago, my family and I went on a volunteer vacation in Costa Rica. There are many highlights of this trip, of course, but one that stands out in particular was what we all did on Christmas Eve. We stayed up all night with other volunteers, to protect a sea turtle hatchery from poachers (human and otherwise, there are a lot of feral cat in that region). Eery member of the group took shifts, wherein we’d walk around with a red light, keeping an eye out and generally making our presence quietly known. My older daughter had the great fortune, on one of her shifts, to discover a baby sea turtle struggling to break free from her shell. She watched as the little Olive Ridley eventually made her way out onto the sand. The video of this sea turtle and my daughter shows the hushed thrill of this animal encounter for all of us in the small group of volunteers. Today, my now-teenage daughter still counts this as one of the most remarkable experiences in her life. 15) Admiring Sloths in the Jungle – Suitcase Stories In 2013 we spend two months living in Costa Rica, with the jungle as our backyard. We would wake up most mornings to the sound of monkeys howling right in our yard. It was incredible to look out the window and see them jumping from tree to tree. We would often see wildlife while walking through the jungle. The most memorable sightings were seeing a sloth in the wild for the first time, and seeing a baby monkey on mothers back in the jungle were we were staying. It was incredible to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. Read more: http://suitcasestories.com/best-of-costa-rica-photo-essay/ 16) Insect searching in the Amazon – 1000 Fights One of our favorite wildlife encounters happened deep in the Amazon Jungle of Peru. Believe it or not I got an indoor girl to go into the jungle! We took a guided tour into an amazing lodge along the Amazon. That night we took a night hike with our trust guide and saw all kinds of different and beautiful bugs, frogs and other critters. Some of which only come out at night. Yes we were a bit itchy when we came back but it was an amazing tour. Read More: www.1000fights.com/5-secrets-indoor-girl-outdoors/ 17) Running from Black Bears – We 12 Travel We knew we’d probably encounter a bear sooner or later on any of our hiking trips in the US. We’re from Europe and (almost) no bears and/or any other “dangerous” wildlife there. In Yellowstone we were warned in excess about possible bear encounters but somehow we just never thought it would happen to us. Until a black bear suddenly appeared on the trail straight ahead of us, walking straight at us, smelling us and looking at us. All I could think of saying was: “OMG, that’s a bear, we gotta get out of here” … the bear (a black cub) tailed us for a while but eventually disappeared into the woods… definitely the highlight of our Yellowstone visit! Read More: http://www.we12travel.nl/blog/?p=487 18) Snorkeling with Gentle Giants – Surfing the Planet In the Philippines, there are several places where you can see whalesharks. In the island of Cebú, close to Oslob, whalesharks stay really close to the coast. Fisherman started feeding them some time ago, so these giants come very close to the coast every morning for feeding. It is a touristic experience, as they take you on a fisherman’s boat to just a couple of hundred meters from the coast, but then you have the chance to swim with these huge animals, gentle giants as they call them. We spent 35 minutes snorkelling with 8 of these 6-7 meter long giants. When they swim close to you, and they swim really close to you, you stop breathing even though you know they are completely harmless. It was an awesome experience, these animals are so beautiful! Read more (only available in Spanish and Italian): http://www.surfingtheplanet.com/philippines/nadando-con-unos-gigantes-del-mar-los-tiburones-ballena/ 19) Watching Sea Lions play in the Galapagos – Adam Off The Radar Midway through a two week stay in the Galapagos Islands, we’d seen all sorts of fascinating animals but had only seen sea lions from a distance. That changed on our first morning on Isabela. We got up early and walked down to Concha de Perla with the hope of seeing some up close. After a short wait, an adult female swam over. We were debating whether or not to join her in the water when she leapt up onto the jetty to say hello before jumping back in. We took that as an invitation and spent an unforgettable ten minutes cavorting around with her under the water before she swam away. 20) Snorkeling with Sting Rays – Divergent Travelers We were boating off the coast of Belize, near Caye Caulker and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, when we stopped to jump in the water with a large group of stingrays and nurse sharks. The animals in this area are pretty docile, they see a large amount of boats and people moving through this area on any given day. They aren’t skittish and allow you to approach them for photos. After everyone was in the water and off exploring, I lingered near the boat and just as the water settled I was able to observe this group of stingrays, all by myself. They were unfazed by my presence giving the opportunity to snap several photos. 21) Beetles rolling dung – Daves Travel Corner I was in Chobe National Park in Botswana about 18 months ago. For pure numbers of wild animals a visit to this park is hard to beat. There are the lions, the elephants and many other amazing creatures – all of which were highlights. However, one highlight that stands out in my mind was of the micro kind. We spotted a dung beetle rolling a large ball of dung across the African plain – I was fascinated by this little beetle moving a mass so much larger than itself. Oh and the female just hung on the entire time for a free ride! 22) Spotting Endangered Spotted Quolls – Chasing the Wild Tasmania is one of Australia’s great wildernesses. Cradle Mountain National Park in particular is renowned for it’s natural beauty. A few years ago when hiking the mountain with family, we stopped for lunch at a small hut beside a waterway and alpine shrubbery. Within minutes of having sat down, I heard a rustling in the bushes. Moments later, two spotted quolls emerged. These endangered animals are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials and typically very rarely spotted. Whilst I had many other memorable wildlife moments in Tasmania (including witnessing an even rarer ocean sunfish), watching wild spotted quoll frolic remains one of my favourites. 23) Adopting and Caring for a Baboon – Lady’s Travel Blog His name was Jabari, and it meant fearless. I named him that – not because he was, he certainly wasn’t at first making all sorts of cooing and squawking noises when I wasn’t in sight. I named him Jabari perhaps by chance or in irony of his lack of it. Jabari was a 4 week old, olive baboon when I first met him. He was given to me to raise after his mother abandoned him. They called him ugly, with his sparse patches of olive hair, his wrinkly face and long rat-like tail with a sad tuft of hair at it’s end. His most striking feature was his eyes, large, round, dark brown, penetrating yet soulful eyes – I was hooked from the moment I looked into them. As he grew he became more independent and stronger – of strength and will. Then came the fateful day I had to say goodbye. I realized that I had learned a lot from Jabari. He had shown me the art of fearless love and in return I learned to be fearless in love as well, for him, for other wildlife and for life. 24) Finding Monkey’s in Bed – The Stupid Foreigner We were in Hampi, a deeply religious and historical village, surrounded by some of the most beautiful and unique mountains I’ve seen in my life, and absolutely full of wildlife! We were staying in a tree house across the river from the town. Deep in the nature and an area famous for what the locals call “human monkeys”. The only problem with staying in a tree house, especially one built in a fruit tree is that you may be visited by one of these human-like, and almost human sized monkeys! So one morning, I woke up with something touching my feet… It was a monkey! He was sitting on the end of my bed and going through my bag! Luckily he didn’t manage to steal anything from me and as soon as I woke up he ran off into the forest… Read More: http://thestupidforeigner.com/india/theres-a-monkey-in-my-bed/ Any unique animal encounters you can add to the list?! Share in the comments below! Like this post?! Follow me on Facebook! Did you enjoy this post? If so, please consider sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or via Email. Also, I’d love to keep sending you updates about my adventures around the world, so please subscribe to A Passion and A Passport via RSS or by email!