There are many ways to experience animals up close and personal without harming or alarming them, so in celebration of World Animal Day, we are pleased to highlight our top picks for responsible wildlife experiences around the globe.
Zealandia: Wellington, New Zealand
Just 10 minutes outside of beautiful Wellington, New Zealand, stands one of the world’s most ambitious conservation projects. The world’s first fully fenced urban eco-sanctuary, Zealandia is a 225 hectare area in which flora and fauna that have been absent from New Zealand for over a century are being reintroduced.
The plan to restore the area’s ecosystem to its state before humans is one that is believed will take 500 years, but that isn’t stopping the effort. Already the sheer number of species protected within the sanctuary makes it the most biodiversity-rich square mile of mainland New Zealand.
Explore trails geared towards bush hiking as well as wheelchair accessible in the hopes of seeing the reserve’s many rare and endemic wildlife like the symbol of New Zealand, the kiwi bird. You’ll also encounter reptiles and incredible looking insects as well as parrots like the Kākā.
Dive with Whale Sharks: South Ari Atoll, Maldives
The Maldives offers visitors the chance to swim with the largest fish in the world. Whale sharks can reach up to 12 meters in length making them imposing beasts but in reality they are harmless … unless you are the plankton which they feed on!
If you have a certification you can go with a group and dive or snorkel, and it is truly a magical experience to swimbeside these magnificent creatures. Every effort is made to make sure the whale sharks are as comfortable as you are.
Maldives Whale Shark Research Program (MWSRP) is dedicated to increasing knowledge and safeguarding the marine ecosystem here. Through community-focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives they ensure the rich biodiversity and marine ecosystem as well as the livelihood and culture in the Maldives survives for future generations.
Big 5 Marathon: Entabeni Reserve, South Africa
Move over Boston Marathon because the Entabeni Safari Conservancy, located in the World Heritage Waterberg Biosphere, offers the chance to run a classic 42.195km marathon or half marathon through the breathtaking savannah of South Africa. No fences or rivers will separate you from the wildlife that calls the reserve home.
Home to Africa’s Big 5 which includes the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, you will truly become part of the ecosystem as you run the most scenic and memorable marathon of your life. Rangers are on hand to insure safety for all runners but be warned you 05/become distracted as you run by giraffes, elephants, antelope, and possibly even a rhino. Held annually, the next race is scheduled for 06/23, 2018. The race and its included safari tours before are run through top rated commercial operators so rest assured you’ll be covered by your travel insurance.
Entabeni Safari Conservancy is focused on conservation and has played a crucial role in restoring the reserve’s flora and fauna through breeding and reintroduction programs. Management of conservation projects are carried out with the assistance of local and international wildlife agencies.
Trekking with Gorillas: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Come face to face with some of our closest cousins as you embark on a once in a lifetime adventure to see gorillas in the jungle. Driven by conservation instead of capitalism, both Rwanda and Uganda strictly limit the amount of permits issued to licensed tour operators each day.
There are 10 family groups of gorillas within the Volcanoes National Park and only 8 permits, costing upwards of $750 each, are issued to visit each family group. Even with a substantial price tag, permits are sold out well in advance making it necessary to book a year or two ahead.
The wild gorillas have gone through years of gentle habituation to minimise distress from tourists and you are limited to just an hour with the great apes to limit their exposure to diseases.
Only conservation based commercial tour operators are allowed to take tourists and local guides/porters are used to strengthen the community and its relationship with the gorillas. The tightly controlled system of tourists and high permit fees which largely go back to conservation is a great success story when it comes to responsible wildlife tourism.
In Darwin’s Footsteps: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
It is a place like no other with so many endemic species which led to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Consisting of 21 islands, the Galapagos offers visitors many options, and it’s possible to cruise, or, if you would like to immerse yourself in island life more fully, choose a land base and plan out your excursionsEach island holds its own special secrets and animals where the welfare of the animals is always prioritized. There are limited tourist land and scuba-diving/snorkeling sites in which small groups are only allowed to visit in 2- to 4-hour shifts. The islands are home to many conservation efforts including breeding facilities for the massive giant land tortoises.
The Galapagos is a marine reserve, second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In addition, it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a biosphere reserve. As with any holiday make sure you choose a licensed commercial tour operator that is committed to conservation and animal welfare so as to protect this beautiful destination and ensure the well-being of you and your family.
Smartraveller.gov.au recommends registering your plans and organising travel insurance (Source : http://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/insurance/Pages/default.aspx) You can start your travel insurance quote with InsureandGo here.