Up close and personal – Unmissable’s Top 10 Wildlife Holidays with a Difference
A lack of charitable donations and funding have left wildlife operators looking for smarter ways to finance conservation. This means unique and unprecedented opportunities to get closer than ever to some of the planet’s most iconic species.
Rhino-notching, South Africa
Last year, poachers killed 1,004 white rhinos in South Africa. This year, the tally stands at 294 (more than two every day) all to feed the Asian taste for an ineffective aphrodisiac. This prize offers the opportunity to take part in vital conservation work in the Greater Kruger National Park, tracking, tranquillising, notching ears (for identification) and inserting microchips into horns. The seven-night trip, which includes game drives and visits to the Khamai reptile centre and the Moholoholo wildlife rehabilitation centre is an experience not to be missed.
Elephants can easily stray onto cultivated land, ruining the precious crops of local farmers. They’re also being targeted by poachers feeding the Asian ivory craze. This prize joins Dr Alfred Kikoti and his team in Saadani National Park as they fit elephants with radio collars. These allow the animals’ movements to be tracked, minimising poaching and conflict with their human neighbours. Unique tasks will include tracking the pachyderms by helicopter and by 4×4, photographing them and mapping their habitat.
Big cats, Namibia
When cheetahs stray onto Namibian farms, the outcome is either a bullet or, for the lucky ones, a telephone call to the Africat Foundation, in Okonjima. Here, the animals are rehabilitated and released into less populous territories, and this summer there is the chance to assist the foundation’s veterinary team as they give health checks to their cheetahs on remand. Then you’ll move on to spend three nights travelling in the area, helping to spread the message that conservation is better than termination. A thoroughly rewarding opportunity.
Predator research, Zambia
Predator numbers are a simple indicator of the health of an ecosystem. It’s not big cats that are the best guide, though. If you’ve got wild dogs — Africa’s smartest, smelliest and arguably most exciting predators — then your habitat and diversity are in good shape. This prize includes a nine-night safari with the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), which researches wild dogs and offers anti-poaching support and habitat management for the lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs of Kafue National Park. Led by ZCP researchers, this prize includes the opportunity to track prey and survey habitats, as well as enjoying more traditional game drives.
Snow leopards, Kyrgyzstan
The snow leopard is the most elusive predator on Earth, and this two-week prize offers the opportunity to expand what little knowledge we have of the species in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan. You will be based in a tented camp at an altitude of 6,800ft, travelling by 4×4 and on foot, setting camera traps and looking for tracks, kills, scats and the animals themselves. A little less comfort and a little more exertion required on this one, but it provides a great story headline.
Shark conservation, Fiji
This prize includes the chance to join a pioneering shark protection scheme in the South Seas. Your job will include tagging juvenile specimens, setting underwater cameras and retrieving data, introducing a local education programme and working in marine and mangrove habitats. No need to be a qualified diver — you will be able to learn on the job.
Rather look but not touch? We round off these incentives with prizes including locations that are opening up parts of the world previously accessible only to David Attenborough. Here’s the pick to round off the top 10.
Fighting giraffes, Namibia
Remember the slow motion giraffe fight in Attenborough’s Africa? It took place in the Hoanib Valley, in northwestern Namibia, a startlingly beautiful land where desert elephants dig their own wells and the fog banks on the dunes hide the diamond-rich beaches of the Skeleton Coast. This awesome yet awkward-to-reach location — arguably the most beautiful in Africa — is home to a new camp opening this August, offering luxury in one of the continent’s harshest environments. The prize includes a 2 week trip taking in the best of these natural Namibian delights.
The largest member of the weasel family is a vicious, spaniel-sized loner capable of taking down fully grown deer and seeing off bears by glaring at them. They also emit a particularly foul odour from their anal glands, and their table manners are despicable. Seeing a wolverine in the wild should be top of any nature-lovers list, with this prize taking in the logging town of Lieska, in eastern Finland, where local naturalists have semi-habituated the beasts by hiding meat in the woods. You’ll spend two nights in an uncomfortable hide and one in a comfortable hotel, all part of this amazing experience.
Halfway between Jodhpur and Udaipur, Jawai Leopard Camp comprises eight tented suites set in a craggy landscape of outstanding beauty, and because the reserve is privately owned, there are no limitations on where and when you take your game drives. Seeing a leopard in the wild is never easy, but in its first three months of operation, Jawai boasts a 75% hit rate. This prize includes three nights at the camp as part of an eight-night tour of Rajasthan.
The full Unmissable Attenborough…
Unless you work for the BBC, you won’t ever get the chance to see 18 of the world’s most iconic endangered species across 12 countries in a single epic trip. Unless, that is, you have $1m to spare. That’s the price of a place on this special one-off itinerary, a luxurious three-month journey to Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, the Galapagos, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Rwanda and Tanzania, in search of wild dogs, northern white and black rhinos, rare lemurs, orang-utans, sun bears, turtles, giant tortoises, pygmy elephants, tigers, snow leopards, gorillas, chimpanzees, waved albatrosses, jaguars, penguins and polar bears.
If you’d like to see more prize ideas, this time more water-based, then click here for more inspiration.