Many of us only see rare and exotic animals in the confines of a zoo, and indeed, well-run, compassionate zoos have been integral in saving endangered animals. A trio of white lions, for instance, was born last year in a Ukraine zoo, and a liliger, offspring of a female liger and male tiger, was born in a Siberian zoo. The world’s rarest animals are often very few in number and very adept at hiding from threats, even nature-loving tourists with cameras. Where can you find the rarest of the rare in the wild?
- Mountain gorillas. This is a magnificent beast found in the mountains of Uganda. With recent ecotourism efforts, this is one rare animal that you have a good shot at seeing – and up close, at that. With a guide, you can get within meters of these giants. A permit to trek through Bwindi National Park is expensive, but the proceeds help preserve and protect the 700+ gorillas still living.
- Polar bears. Churchill, Manitoba is the “Polar Bear Capital of the World.” Each fall, hundreds of these gorgeous creatures gather by the Hudson Bay, waiting for it to ice up so they can move out to winter hunting grounds. This is a great opportunity to see these beautiful animals in their home environment.
- Leatherback sea turtles. This species can grow up to 7 feet and 2,000 pounds. They travel up to 3,700 miles one way to mate and lay their eggs. Your best chance at spotting these gorgeous animals is to visit Grande Riviere, Trinidad. The population has rebounded, and 500 females come onto the beaches in May and June. People here are very protective of their turtles!
- Black rhino. With a population of only 4,000, black rhinos are vulnerable to poachers and habitat disruption. They have, however, been re-introduced into some areas, which will hopefully boost numbers. They are found in Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Hluhulwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa is, perhaps, your best bet as this is where 20 percent of all black and white rhinos live.
- Giant pandas. These gentle giants are favorites in China and abroad. The Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an is the largest in the world and is home to 155 giant pandas. While not exactly “in the wild,” the panda base features breeding and research programs designed to help these threatened pandas survive and thrive.
Even if you cannot spot your favorite rare creature in the wild, you are sure to encounter a wide range of animal life that is equally worth experiencing. And don’t forget zoos; they can offer a home away from home for many exotic and endangered animals.