For many nature lovers, there are few things more exciting than spotting wildlife in its natural habitat.
But some creatures are so rare, so endangered, or so elusive that few humans ever see them in the wild. From the jagged peaks of India to the plankton-rich waters of the North Atlantic, here are three destinations to track the world’s most elusive wildlife.
North Atlantic Right Whales (New Brunswick, Canada)
Right whales take their name from the Golden Age of whaling when they were deemed the “right whales” to hunt. They feed close to shore, at the surface, and float easily once killed — none of which has helped their survival odds. Today, right whales number in the teens (and are deemed “functionally extinct” by scientists) in the eastern North Atlantic. Several hundred still exist off the coast of New Brunswick Canada, however, in the rich cetacean feeding ground that is the Bay of Fundy. At more than 50 feet in length and weighing up to 70 tons, they’re easily spotted from the road. However, organized tour providers like Wildlife Worldwide offer full service trips that include flights, hotel stays, and whale watching boat trips with local expert guides.
Time to go: Mid-June to Mid-August
Snow Leopards (Uley Valley, India)
In general, cats are among the most elusive wildlife in the world — their cunning, stealth, and distrust of humans all make them incredibly difficult to find, let alone hunt. Snow leopards in particular are highly intelligent, camouflaged, and well adapted to their environment — even among cats, they are a rare breed.
Intrepid Travel’s Expedition – In Search of the Snow Leopard is an intense, two-week expedition into the heart of India’s Uley Valley. The region offers one of the highest concentrations (approximately 200) of snow leopards in the world. Be prepared that the encounters with these elusive cats are not of the “up close and personal” variety. Even under ideal conditions, you’ll likely be spotting them in the distance through a pair of high-powered binoculars. Tour-goers can also track a bevy of other wildlife throughout the region, including Tibetan Antelope, Ibex, and Blue Sheep.
Time to go: January
African Wild Dogs (Zululand, South Africa)
Africa is home to more endangered species than anywhere on earth. But fewer endangered species are lesser known or understood than African wild dogs. Their population decline is due in large part to a PR problem: they’re ugly, they’re vicious hunters, and, from the perspective of many local Africans, they just “don’t serve a purpose.”
For these reasons, they’ve had a long history of human conflict that has left their numbers decimated in the last century. Their packs cover broad swaths of the entire continent. However, the large number of conservation areas in South Africa makes the region one of the best for spotting them. Wildlife ACT offers intensive, two-week volunteer programs in the country’s biodiverse Zululand region to study and get up close and personal with these elusive creatures.
Time to go: Year-round