Whether it’s poaching, deforestation, acid rain, water contamination, or plain old global warming, animals are in trouble. Partly it’s their own fault for not inventing insulated shelter and water purifiers, but whoever we blame, one thing is clear: a lot of animals are becoming rarer these days, and many of those that were already threatened are now teetering on the edge of total extinction. There are myriad efforts in the world to save them, move them, repopulate them, but there is a generalized lack of concern in much of the world. One solution to the apathy is the wildlife safari – it’s harder to be indifferent to a species once you’ve seen it, perhaps walked or driven through the forest at its side. Many wildlife safaris are also conservationist in nature, donating some or all of their profits to protecting the animals that are their livelihood. Whether your motivation is environmental consciousness or just an urge to see the wonders of the natural world, a wildlife safari can be exciting and rewarding. One focused on endangered species is even more sure to educate, awe and inspire.
Endangered Wolf Center - Eureka, Missouri
The Endangered Wolf Center looks after the wolf population of their 25 hectare lot, educating the public about these beautiful predators on their premiere Preda-Tour. Visitors ride along with animal experts to throw special bones, or ice blocks packed with goodies. The wolves’ physical and mental health is always paramount, and much of the tour is actually for them – swift foxes and African painted dogs provide an outlet for their curiosity, and delight visitors. The Center also houses Mexican grey wolves, red wolves, maned wolves, swift foxes and African painted dogs – all of which are endangered in the wild.
Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center - South Africa
While not technically for endangered species, the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Center ends up housing quite a few anyway. Their mission is to collect and help any injured, poisoned, or sickened animals, especially among populations that cannot afford to lose any more individuals. The Center runs regular tours through its grounds, giving visitors an unintrusive look at the week’s contingent of patients. From eagles to leopards to yearling hippos and baby rhinoceroses, the Rehabilitation Center always has a diverse and beautiful array of animals to protect, display and promote.
Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge - New Mexico
Located where desert meet wetlands, the Bitter Lake refuge is home to a wide variety of rare and beautiful animals. Particularly, the wetlands draw a huge variety of birds both local and exotic, more than 350 in all. Multicoloured dragonflies are also in world-leading abundance, more than 100 species of them. Weekly endangered species tours bring visitors through those parts of the reserve usually off-limits to visitors, the habitats or stop-over spots for some of the world’s rarest species of bird.
The tortoise islands – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Animal diversity is perhaps the most famous aspect of the Galapagos Islands, a chain of small islands that were so dense with wildlife that they inspired Darwin to make his first concerted guesses at how they all came about. Now, sadly, we are more concerned with how they might leave this world, rather than enter it, and the Galapagos is home to any number of species endangered by hunting, pollution, and displacement. None is more in peril than the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, monster reptile that weigh, on average, more than a full grown human male. The slow-moving goliaths are famously docile, which may explain their inability to adapt to changing environment. Regardless, numerous local tours exist to show travellers not just these beautiful reptiles, but to educate about just how they might be saved.
Manatee habitat – Crystal River, Florida
Manatees are famous for their faces, round friendly things they poke up from the water to snuffle at boaters and receive food, affection, or both. It’s this blindly trusting nature that has put the manatee in such danger, making them vulnerable to both intentional hunting and unintentional shredding by outboard boat motors. However, since they are so docile they are the perfect subjects for wildlife tours, many of which allow travellers to swim Crystal River right alongside the big, lazy herbivores. Crystal River Remarkable Manatee Tours donates a portion of all proceeds to manatee conservation, and the area as a whole has united to protect their affable mascot and preserve its slow-witted friendliness for many generations to come.
Mountain Gorillas – Uganda and Rwanda
Several African companies run tours into the hills and forests of central-north Africa, but many choose to ignore the laws and social imperatives surrounding the species they go to observe. African mountain gorillas, which are simultaneously enormous and relatively docile great apes, have been particularly devastated by the industry that was intended to protect them. Some, however, like Nomad African Adventure Tours, take care not to endanger travellers or wildlife as they bring enthusiasts on an array of treks to the secluded habitats of the great mountain apes. Their largest is a week-long adventure to make Dian Fossey jealous.
Rhinos On The Plains - Zimbabwe
Rhinos and rhino tourism are a near constant in Africa, but Zimbabwe has a particularly booming industry. There are several species of rhinoceros past or teetering on the brink of the endangered species list, though these living battle tanks need little in the way of spicing up to be interesting to travellers. Again, always be mindful of the tour operator you choose, as many do as much harm as good for the animals they track and display. The Zimbabwe Rhino and Elephant Conservation is always a safe bet, if not necessarily the cheapest, and has some well-known characters so safari leaders know which rhinos to approach with caution. These goliath beasts have been harried to the point of extinction, but they’re still happy to display their horns for anyone curious enough to look.
Cumbungi Sanctuary - Australia
Cumbungi is home to numerous species, many of them under threat, but its greatest claim to fame comes not from its fluffy canine predators or bouncing kangaroos, but from the humble platypus. The duck-billed platypus, so enigmatic that for decades biologists could not decide if it was a reptile or a mammal, is now only viewable in a handful of locations around the world. Cumbungi Sanctuary runs tours specifically to seek out the furry little friend, one of nature’s truest oddities, with a focus on photography. Their mission is not just to display the platypus, but to bring its plight to the attention of the world.
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge - Florida
Florida’s Panthers are in trouble. Not only has the NHL team made playoff failure an annual tradition, but the animal for which they are named is slaughtered by foreigners with almost the same regularity. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge may not be able to help the skaters survive the decade, but it’s doing all it can for the animals. Tours groups are the only way for civilians to enter most of this animal sanctuary, and each is led by an expert in the plight of Florida’s premiere feline predator. Though it is estimated that fewer than 100 panthers still roam the area, tour operators know just how and where to find them.
Polar Bear country - Canada
The hardest part about finding polar bears is that they refuse to settle down. Almost perfectly camouflaged against the snow, these nomadic beasts lope about the north of Canada and Alaska with not a care in the world – except for hunters and the ever-looming threat of melting Arctic ice. As their numbers have dwindled, the enigmatic polar bear, also the world’s most aggressive and dangerous bear, have become harder than ever to find. Experienced tour operators like Frontiers North specialize in finding the animals, and know how to display them without endangering either traveller or subject. The polar bear is wilderness incarnate, dangerous, totally unfettered, and badly in need of a reprieve from humans and habitat alike.