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In recent years, wildlife holidays have boomed. It’s no surprise when you start to consider the amazing experiences wildlife enthusiasts can have. Who wouldn’t find a pod of orcas passing your kayak, viewing the great migration from a hot air balloon or sit with a troop of gorillas thrilling? So, what are you waiting for? Forget the beach holiday this year and head off on one of these 15 wildlife experiences.

RELATED: What to expect when volunteering in tiger conservation

Great white shark cage diving in South Africa

Nothing comes close to the adrenaline rush of climbing into a cage and being submerged into the underwater world of the great white shark. Reaching over six metres in length and up to 2 tons, it’s easy to see why people find them intimidating. However, this greatly misunderstood and feared apex predator is important in keeping fish population balanced and are sadly under threat. Fortunately, organisations like The Great Projects offer holidays which mix wildlife volunteering with conservation.

Tracking gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

Flickr: Ronald Woan

With a limit to the number of permits available, only the lucky few get to experience the thrill of tracking wild gorilla troops in the lush hilly forests of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Accompanied by rangers, visitors have the opportunity to sit just metres away from silverback gorillas. Watch the family socialise, feed and groom each other without cages to block your view.

Swimming with whale sharks

whale shark swim

Flickr: Gulf Program

As the name suggests, whale sharks are the largest of the shark family and the world’s biggest fish. At their largest they can reach a staggering 12 metres in length and up to 20 tons. Though their size may seem intimidating, these giants of the sea are anything but. They feed almost entirely on plankton and krill making them completely harmless to humans. Whale sharks prefer warmer waters and there are plenty of places where it is possible to swim with them including Mexico, Tanzania, Maldives and Mozambique.

Tiger safari in Kanha National Park

Tiger safari

Flickr: Rohit Varma

Kanha National Park in India is an excellent place to spot these majestic creatures. The landscape of forests and open water inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The park is home to one of the biggest populations of Bengal tigers, the largest of the big cats. Sadly, tigers are critically endangered. Encroachment on their land and poaching for ancient medicines have severely depleted their numbers. Consider taking a conservation holiday which blends both safaris with volunteering.

Watching orangutans in Borneo

For many, watching this great ape is a lifelong dream. Their intelligence and closeness to humans make them fascinating to observe. They can only be found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra and are sadly critically endangered. Several sanctuaries in Malaysia and Indonesia work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and ensure the survival of these beautiful creatures.

Big 5 African safari

Big 5 safari

No wildlife experience is quite as iconic as spotting the Big 5 on an African safari. In many of the continent’s countries magnificent elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards and rhinos can be seen from the safety of a 4×4. There’s much more than the Big 5 though – hippos, giraffes, zebras and birdlife. More intrepid wildlife enthusiasts can take bush walks or horseback safaris. Those with deep pockets can glide silently over the Serengeti in a hot air balloon watching the great migration or float down the Okavango in dugout canoes.

Turtle conservation in Costa Rica

Sea turtles have been mercilessly poached for their beautiful shells. Damage to their habitat has only furthered the plight of the sea turtle which is endangered. Scientists struggle to get an accurate figure due to their elusive nature and the huge number of hatchlings that don’t make it to adulthood. One of the best ways to see turtles is on a conservation project. Volunteers collect scientific data, relocate eggs when necessary and monitor turtle behavior. Watching young hatch and make their journey along the beach to the sea is a magical experience.

Kayaking with orcas in British Columbia

Kayak with orca in British Columbia

Flickr: Winky

Take to the sea on kayaks to glide along the stunning coastline of Canada’s British Columbia in search of killer whales. Hearing the distinct blow and then spotting a pod of orcas for the first time is an unforgettable experience. These curious creatures often come within metres of the kayak and can be seen playing and socializing with the rest of the pod.

Galapagos Islands in Ecuadorgiant tortoise galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most biodiverse wildlife spots on earth. Famously, the islands were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The volcanic Ecuadorian archipelago lies just over 500 miles from the mainland. It’s this isolation from human contact and lack of predators that have allowed the wildlife to evolve without fear. Few places in world allow such close integration with the animal kingdom. Here you’ll find flightless cormorants, blue-footed boobies, the only penguin to cross the Equator and giant tortoises.

Polar bear expedition in the Arcticpolar-bear-1574996_960_720

Nothing symbolises the damage of climate change on wildlife quite like the polar bear who are losing their frozen homeland at a staggeringly fast rate. A small expedition cruise to the Arctic is the best way to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. From the ship it’s possible to see the bears ambling along with their young, feeding on seals or jumping across the ice floes. It’s not just polar bears you’ll see in this winter wonderland. Arctic foxes, reindeers, birdlife and walruses are all commonly spotted. As always, ensure your tour operator works responsibly in wildlife conservation.

Bears fishing for salmon in Alaska

The Katmai National Park is home to the largest protected Alaskan brown and grizzly bear population in the world. Since a ban on hunting in the park, bear numbers have boomed. The centre for wildlife enthusiasts is Brook Falls, a waterfall where more than 40 bears have been known to congregate in July as they feed on spawning salmon. Many of the best bear photos have been taken from the wooden viewing platform overlooking the falls.

Jaguars in the Pantanal

The Pantanal in Brazil is the largest wetland in the world and a wildlife haven. The journey starts with a safari drive along the famous Transpantaneira road. Giant otters, caiman, monkeys, giant anteaters, heron, hawks and anacondas live here in abundance, but it is the jaguar that’s the star of the show. These elusive creatures are difficult to find, but many small wildlife tour operators have become surprisingly successful by taking boat trips along the waterways. Jaguars often visit the riverbanks to stalk prey including caiman.

Giant pandas in Chengdu

giant panda china

Flickr: Soren Wolf

The lush forested hills of China’s Sichuan province are home to the entire population of wild giant pandas. It’s possible (and enjoyable) to watch these cute creatures at one of Changdu’s research centres, but nothing beats seeing giant pandas in the wild. Few tour operators have access to the necessary permits for panda tracking and they are notoriously difficult to spot. However, those who are lucky enough to see a giant panda in the wild are never disappointed.

The sardine run in South Africa

June marks the start of the great sardine run, a month-long migration of these tiny silver fish along the KwaZulu-Natal coast in South Africa. Shoals of over 5 kilometres long, 4 kilometres wide and 40 metres deep work their way from their spawning grounds to warmer tides. These shoals are eagerly followed by predators in search of an easy feast. Dolphins tactically hunt by splitting up the shoal and rounding them into bait balls while greedy gannets employ an aerial assault from above. Wildlife enthusiasts can watch the spectacle from boats or better still, underwater.

Snow monkeys in Japansnow_monkey

Our wildlife wild card are the snow monkeys in Japan. The winters in central Japan are harsh, but a troop of Japanese macaques (the world’s most northern living primates other than humans) have found a very an interesting way to keep warm. Once the snow hits their forested home, the troop descend upon the nearby warm onsen (Japanese hot baths) where they spend their days playing and preening each other. Visit the Jigokudani Yaen Koen Park to see them for yourself.

RELATED: Discover wildlife conservation tours with The Great ProjectsThe Great Projects

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