Many of our guests consider that close wildlife encounters are among their most unforgettable African experiences – there is something remarkable about being very near to the magnificent creatures that call this continent home.
In compiling our list, we’ve been very careful to only recommend ethical experiences – that is, those that are offered by experienced operators who (in addition to your safety, of course) place an emphasis on the welfare of the animals involved.
Each of the wildlife encounters listed here is conducted in such a way as to avoid causing any stress or alarm. In this way, it’s possible to get that little bit closer and gain an even greater appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of Africa’s wildlife.
South Africa’s Jabulani Safari has a remarkable back story – and it’s one that will touch and uplift you. Jabulani takes its name from a young elephant who was rescued from a dam and restored to health and then bonded with a herd of elephants rescued from Zimbabwe. Today, the lodge at this orphaned elephant sanctuary offers a ‘soulful safari experience’ which naturally centers around meeting the resident elephants and exploring the bushveld with them. Alongside a full range of other safari activities, you’ll have the opportunity to directly interact with the elephants and learn more about their heartening stories of hope and survival.
One of Africa’s two quintessential great ape encounters, chimp trekking offers a remarkable degree of insight into the lives (and loves) of these highly sociable and vocal primates. Two of the best places to observe chimpanzees at close quarters are Greystoke Mahale in Tanzania’s Mahale National Park, and Ndali Lodge in Kibali National Park, Uganda. In both locations, a guided stroll through the woods can soon turn into a situation where there’s so much going on around you, it’s hard to know where to look! Habituated (that is, completely wild, but comfortable with humans) groups of chimps will carry on with their daily activities as if you weren’t there, with the experienced guides interpreting all their actions (from foraging to fighting and grooming to playing games), as well as explaining who’s related to who (which in chimpanzee society, is very important!).
Of all the Big Five species, rhino are perhaps the easiest and certainly the safest to track. If approached properly, they make for relaxed and fascinating subjects to study. Rhinos have quite poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and smell, so rhino encounters are all about understanding the wind direction, and being quiet! Two of our favorite locations to follow rhino footprints are Desert Rhino Camp in the vast Palmwag Concession in Namibia – a stronghold of the very rare desert-adapted black rhino – and Amanlinda Lodge in the Matobo Hills National Park in Zimbabwe, where their larger cousins, white rhinos, can be found. Both rhino populations have been extensively studied, which means that the guides and trackers tend to know where to find them. Especially in Namibia, the first part of the adventure may well be by vehicle, before walking when you get closer.
WALK ALONGSIDE THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
The Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the wildlife wonders of the world, with literally hundreds of thousands of antelope moving in a continuous loop between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya’s Masai Mara. En route, they must run the gauntlet of predators including lions and giant crocodiles and cross dangerous rivers. Constantly seeking fresh grazing, they are always on the move – which is why you need expert advice on when and where to travel for the best chances of seeing this spectacle. We offer a 7-day walking safari in the southern Serengeti – operating between December and March only – involves walking around 9 – 13 miles per day, and brings you closer than ever before to the immense herds. During this phase of the journey, the antelope are focused on grazing and calving, leading to remarkable viewing opportunities.
In contrast to getting close to chimpanzees, gorilla trekking is a much calmer, almost meditative experience – and one that many people find deeply moving. It can also be quite a strenuous excursion – these creatures are not known as mountain gorillas for nothing! Whether you go to see them in Uganda or Rwanda, expect quite steep, muddy trails in places – but trust us, the hike is more than worth it! We have years of experience in arranging gorilla permits (essential) and porters (highly recommended) for our guests, and we can advocate for you to be allocated to gorilla families that tend to live slightly lower down the mountains. Whichever family you ‘visit’, you’ll be struck by their peaceful aura, soulful eyes, similarity to our own species – and the playfulness of the youngsters.
SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish – at up to 30 feet long, they’re similar in size to a school bus. Don’t let the name scare you – they may be sharks, but these gentle giants feed on tiny shrimp and plankton. In fact, they don’t have any teeth in their mouths at all! They migrate along the East Coast of Africa – where, happily, the waters tend to be warm and clear. This makes snorkeling with these giant sea creatures a must-do activity on any Indian Ocean island holiday. It’s worth remembering though that they are only present at certain times of the year. Our top tips include:
- Mafia Island, Tanzania (from September to March)
- Nosy Be, Madagascar (September to December)
- Tofo Beach, Madagascar (October to March)
Lemurs – which are found only on the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, are some of the world’s most endearing creatures. There are around 100 species in total, ranging in size from the well-known ring-tailed lemurs to tiny types that weigh only the same as five quarters. Lemurs have become immensely popular due to being featured as characters in several animated movies. To see them in the wild, however, you need to head to the ‘living laboratory’ that is Madagascar. Lively and intelligent, lemurs are immensely enjoyable to watch as they go about their business in the forest. One of the best places to see lemurs is the wonderfully named Ranomafana National Park, where about twenty different kinds can be found, alongside many of Madagascar’s other unique inhabitants.