A Year of Wildlife Encounters
Whether you yearn to come face to face with a leopard or a lemur, our planet’s wildlife inspires many travellers’ globetrotting adventures.
Kick start the year by heading into the Himalaya in search of the elusive Snow leopard, catch the Great Migration rumbling across the Mara or why not finish the year on a high after spending a precious hour with Mountain gorillas in December?
Sharing their wealth of knowledge, our team of wildlife experts have compiled a calendar of the best animal encounters on Earth. Fauna fans can easily spot where to go and when for their next fix of fins, feathers and paws…
Why now? A new year, a new family: the Antarctic Peninsula teems with hatching penguin chicks. Adelies, Chinstraps and Gentoos are the downy stars of this avian crèche. With almost 24-hour daylight, this is the ideal time of year for budding wildlife photographers to maximise their lens skills against a glistening backdrop of blue tabular icebergs and sapphire polar waters.
What else: Humpback, Minke, Fin and Southern Right whales, leopard seals, Fur seals and their pups.
Why now? A migratory species, the Blue whale frequents oceans the world over, feeding in polar waters during the summer before returning to the tropics for winter. This monolith of the animal kingdom passes by the southern coast of this Indian Ocean pearl to give some of the most spectacular whale watching opportunities on Earth. Nothing can prepare you for the moment one of these majestic mammals flaunts it eight-metre fluke next to your boat – a marine thrill without parallel.
What else: Leopards, Asian elephants, monkeys, Samba deer and Monitor lizards
Why now? The Galapagos Islands have all-round appeal that varies on the season, but early spring is the best time of year to catch Marine iguanas nesting on Fernandina Island. Later in the month will welcome the arrival of the first Waved Albatross as they appear en masse to breed on the island of Espanola.What else: Galapagos penguins, turtles, sea lions, Blue-footed boobies, variety of seabirds.
Why now? The chance to look into the amber orbs of a Bengal tiger sits pretty high on many wildlife wish lists. Maximise the chances of meeting this elusive striped predator by visiting during the dry season. With less foliage to obscure the view and dropping water levels forcing much of the park’s wildlife to congregate around watering holes, you’re already one step closer to your feline goal.
What else: Sloth bears, leopard, Samba and Spotted deer, kingfishers, Malabar hornbill.
Why now? At this time of year, a month or two after the wet season, South Luangwa sparkles with emerald beauty. The average daily temperature drops, making is perfectly comfortable for a walking safari. Fed by the mighty Zambezi River, the Luangwa grasslands are a haven for the 700-strong population of Thornicroft giraffe, unique to Luangwa, and at this time of year, with watering holes and lagoons swollen from the earlier rains, your chances of seeing mothers with their calves are much higher.
What else: Lions, leopards, cheetahs, African elephants, Cape buffalo, baboon, antelopes, impalas, hyenas, crocodiles, cranes, Marabou storks, egrets and plenty more.
Why now? Rare, elusive, and stunningly beautiful, an encounter with these powerful, e-type cats requires an expert guide, patience and flexibility. For a while in the 70s and 80s it looked as though the skin trade would claim all of these cats but not now, the Pantanal has a stable population of these magnificent creatures. Anyone who has enjoyed viewing leopards may well want to try their hand here, a jaguar is over twice the size of its African cousin and the males are bigger than most lionesses!
What else: Hyacinth macaws, river otters, caimans and kingfishers.
Why now? Polar bears bathed in 24-hour daylight, an icebreaker, onboard bear experts… the question really should be “why not?” Polar bears are another predator very close to Paul Goldstein’s heart and each year he leads this exclusive Exodus charter around the Spitsbergen archipelago hoping to go one better than the year before. Well this year he went not one, but eight better with a total 24 bear sightings. A small ship voyage really is the best way to encounter the great white hunter.
What else: Walrus, Arctic foxes, Ivory gulls, puffin and Sabine’s gulls.
Why now? During the summer and autumn months, the Mara plains rumble as ruminant herds thunder North from the Serengeti to their northern stronghold of the Masai Mara. This normally begins sometime in June and if this year is anything to go by can still be in Kenya well into October and November. To be among literally millions of wildebeest, zebra and other plain game is one of the greatest wildlife encounters anywhere. Their life is not easy, they have croc-infested rivers to cross and are pursued relentlessly by predators.
What else: Lions, cheetahs, leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalo, impala, Fish eagles, Thompson gazelle, ostrich, hippos, giraffe…actually it’s a fairly long list!
Why now? The annual Salmon Run, beginning in August and reaching its peak in September, is the perfect opportunity to watch Grizzly bears in their natural habitat doing what they do best, salmon fishing! Boosting their fat reserves for the long winter of hibernation ahead, the bears will treat you to some spectacular photo opportunities against a cascading backdrop of white-water and priordial forest.
What else: Black bears, Grey and Humpback whales, Bald eagles, elk, seals, beavers.
Why now? After riding the oceans currents for over a thousand miles, Atlantic green sea turtles arrive at their nesting grounds on the Caribbean shores of Tortuguero National Park. Cumbersome on land, these soft-centred reptiles use their paddle-like flippers to haul their shell-laden bodies up onto the beach, to nest and lay their precious cargo high above the tide line. Each female will return to the same nesting spot every few days and will lay between two and four clutches.
What else: Howler monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds and toucans.
Why now? The gathering of up to six million King penguins is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth. Years in the making, with persistence and hard work coming together, Exodus is proud to charter this one-off expedition with zoologist and TV presenter Mark Cawardine on board the mighty Vavilov. This exclusive itinerary allows for one full week on the penguin-choked shores of South Georgia (unlike any other cruise offering a stop there), and with award-winning photographer Paul Goldstein leading the way, you can be sure this will be a voyage of epic proportions.
What else: Southern elephant seals, Gentoo and Macaroni penguins, various species of albatross.
Why now? Apart from the April and May rainy season, you can see Mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans at any time of year, but we picked December for our Christmas departure. Can you think of a more exciting, unusual way to spend the festive season than on an Africa overland adventure for what is sure to be a wildlife extravaganza? No didn’t think so.
What else: Lion, leopard, cheetah, Africa elephant, hippo, Black and White rhino, Cape buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, baboon, Rock hyrax, vulture, ostrich, flamingo, wart hogs...and the list goes on!