My 10 most memorable wild animal encounters

On my morning walk I passed a sign that read Warning: Bear in Area. My first thought was that it’s awfully early in the season. I didn’t end up meeting any big furry creatures, but it got me thinking about the wild animals I’ve seen during my travels abroad and on local adventures in western Canada. Just like memorable monuments, landscapes, or people, wild animals encounters have left indelible impressions on me—most of them positive, and a few not. So, in no particular order, here are my most memorable critter experiences.

Humpback whales in British Columbia’s Broughton Archipelago

In the distance, we see mist from the whales’ blowholes. Our kayaking guide tells us to raft-up and give the whales space. Minutes later, a humpback unexpectedly surfaces just 10m (32 ft) from our kayaks. My close-up encounter with this marine giant in B.C.’s Broughton Archipelago remains one of my most inspiring (if a tad scary) animal experiences. In addition to humpback whales, this area is home to orcas, porpoises, eagles, bears, and many more animals. You can read about my kayaking/whale adventure with Spirit of the West Adventures here.

Komodo dragons of Komodo Island, Indonesia

My sister, me and other backpackers are being led along the trails by a “ranger” carrying a pitchfork-like thing that he uses to jab the dragons if they come too close. He looks like he is about 12 years old. One komodo darts towards us. I jump into my sister’s arms, feet off the ground, clinging to her neck. The ranger laughs; my sister is simultaneously terrified and annoyed. Even 30 year later, I remember my intense fear as we walked among the Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard species, growing to 2.6 m (8.5 ft) and 91 kg (200 lb). Komodo Island is incredibly beautiful, but I don’t need to repeat my dragon encounter.

Mandarinfish, Bunaken Island, Indonesia

It’s dusk. Our small group of divers descends to 12 m. Every night, as the sun goes down, mandarinfish tentatively leave the safety of their coral sanctuary to engage in an elaborate mating ritual. They are very shy and even the slightest movement and camera lights can spook them. We are lucky. Several males emerge; their iridescent colour pattern is exquisite. They flutter their feathery fins and show off for the females. When a female sees a fella she likes, she attaches herself to one of his fins. Their mating dance is a perfectly choreographed ballet. I am completely transfixed. My mandarinfish dive was my favourite of many great dives around Bunaken Island, and perhaps my favourite dive ever.

The lions of Etosha Park, Namibia

We pull to the side of the gravel road after noticing that our rental car had a flat tire—the third on our Namibia trip. “Lions!” my son screams as he points to a pair gracefully walking through the golden scrubland. This is our first lion sighting and we are over the moon (flat tire temporarily forgotten). The lions make themselves comfortable right across the road from us. There are no other private cars or safari trucks, just us. Perhaps 20 minutes elapse, a few cars come and go, and the lions show no sign of leaving. The situation starts to sink in. This is pre-cellphone era. Finally, a ranger pulls up and Mike rolls down the window just enough to flag him down. The ranger radios a garage for us. We have another hour, much of it private, with the big cats of Etosha National Park.

The hippos of Kruger National Park, South Africa

We cycle past zebras and all kinds of antelopes on our guided mountain bike tour in Kruger National Park. The peaceful setting has mostly pushed away my fears of running into a big cat. Suddenly, the ranger at the back of our group yells, “Ride! Fast!” Adrenalin pumping, we follow instructions. Moments later, there’s a gun shot. Visibly shaken, the ranger informs us that a 2000 kg male, rogue hippo had charged him. There had been no alternative but killing him. I’m thankful that no one on our tour got hurt (or worse), but I hate that I played a role in the hippo’s death by being in his habitat. Our ranger tries to put it in perspective for us. It was the first time he had shot an animal while on a bike trip, and the third time in the over 2000 walks he had guided in the park. I’ll always feel sad about this animal encounter.

Sharks of Fulidhoo Island, Maldives

Our divemaster holds his hand straight up against his forehead—the signal for shark. I’m equal parts excited and stressed. We gather together to form a compact group along the top edge of a channel and watch the show unfold. At least a dozen grey reef sharks cruise by—all gleaming silver skin, torpedo-like-bodies, intense eyes. They are magnificent. The water around Fulidhoo Island, in the Vaavu Atoll, is known for its large shark population, but we also see eagle rays, moray eels, turtles and other creatures. Read more about what it’s like above and below the water at Fulidhoo Island.

The blue-footed booby (and all animals) of the Galapagos

The Pato Feo (the Ugly Ducking) is our home for seven days as we tour the Galapagos Islands. She’s not much to look at, but our crew and guide are exceptional. Every island has its unique charms and we’re introduced to blue footed boobies, marine iguanas, flamingos, giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins… The animals show little fear. We’re delighted by a blue-footed booby who flaunts his bright feet in a dance that would make any female swoon. That was back in 1987, and to this day the Galapagos Islands remain my favourite trip for magical, close-up animal encounters.

Sea lions of Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

A juvenile sea lion comes at me with lightning speed and then veers just inches from my mask. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was chuckling. Dozens of sea lions spin, swirl and backflip in an extraordinary display of underwater power and elegance. I’ve described my hour of snorkelling at Los Islotes, a tiny group of islands in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, as one of the best days of my life. Our Los Islotes snorkelling excursion was part of an outstanding kayaking trip we did with ROW Sea Kayak Adventures. You can read my original post here.

Gray langurs of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

I’m wilting in the Sri Lankan heat at the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. I plop myself down on some shady steps next to a short wall where a group of gray langurs are hanging out. I’m fascinated by how they groom each other, how they play, and how the moms are so protective of their tiny babies. I’ve had many special encounters with monkeys throughout my travels. They never fail to make me smile. Read more about Sri Lanka here.

White-phase black bear, Kananaskis, Alberta

What type of bear could this be? There are no spirit bears or polar bears in the Alberta Rockies. But this guy, looking down at us from high up on a ridge, has a white coat. It turns out that we had the great fortune of seeing a white-phase black bear. The American black bear has the widest colour variation (called phases) of any North American mammal. Don’t let the term phase fool you; this bear was born white and will remain white. This was my coolest animal encounter during the pandemic (so far). You can read the original story here.

I’ve had so many other interesting animal encounters, but this post is getting too long. I’ll leave you with photos of a few more memorable moments (all good ones).

Have you had a particularly memorable wild animal encounter?

Categories: Wildlife Viewing | Tags: , , , | 53 Comments

Post navigation

53 thoughts on “My 10 most memorable wild animal encounters

  1. That’s a lot of exotic animal encounters! I love the mandarinfish in particular but the white bear sighting is a once in a lifetime.

    Like

  2. Meeting a tiger on a wildlife reserve in India and encounters with all sorts of animals in South Africa have had indelible impacts upon me, causing me to reflect upon my connections with nonhuman inhabitants as well as the pros and cons of ‘sightseeing’ safaris and zoo visitations. I love your photographic captures of flamingos in Bolivia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A tiger…awesome! Is this rare or are the chances good in some Indian wildlife reserves? The flamingos in the red-hued lake in Bolivia were really special. It was part of a Salar de Uyuni jeep tour, which I highly recommend. Despite following the rules and selecting reputable tour providers/diving operations, I too wrestle with the potentially adverse effects on wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing encounters & great photos! The mandarinfish must have been so awesome… Lucky you. It’s funny, we are just coming back from the bush and we also had a puncture with a lioness and her 3 teenage boys only a few meters away… It does make it unforgettable (and it is always so special to observe big cats)!!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Claire

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Claire! I am envious of your travels to the bush. I’m a cat lover (small and big). I’d love to see lions and leopards again, and with luck, perhaps cheetahs. I’m sure the lioness with her boys must have been an impressive encounter.Glad you enjoyed the post (yup…that mandarinfish dive was superb).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yet another awesome and inspiring post. So glad your experience kayaking with us and the magnificent whales made the cut! All the best, Bre, Rick and the Spirit of the West Crew

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m sure that my experience with the whales on that Spirit of the West Adventures trip will always make the cut. It was soooo cool! Hope you guys are all well.

      Like

  5. That is quite an impressive compilation of wild animal encounters, Caroline. Isn’t it wonderful to sometimes pause and take a trip down memory lane? You got me thinking about my own encounters, and perhaps a favourite memory is listening to the munching of hippos close to our banda as we sat next to our camp fire at night at Lake Naivasha in Kenya. Exhiliration is perhaps a good description of some of my most memorable encounters – a hearty combination of fear and excitement. Reading about your encounter with whales while on a kayak reminded my body of that feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jolandi! In this time when I’m not traveling nor madly planning a trip, I’m enjoying my reflections back on past experiences. I know I’ve been lucky to do a lot of travelling but the extent and quality of it really hits when I put together these memories from various trips. Your hippo encounter in Kenya sounds magical. It is interesting that sometimes it’s the sounds that stick with us…like the hippos munching or the whales blowing.

      Like

      • So true, Caroline. We often forget how important sound is. So many of my travel memories include that, which pictures can never capture. I’m glad you are making good use of these reclusive times by sifting through memories. I also find it interesting to note how where I am now in my life influence the way I recall many of my travel memories. And how they in return take me on journeys down memory lane in wildly unexpected ways.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is also one of the most memorable travel experiences for me. There’s one thing, however, that I usually regret when I’m in close encounter with them: not having the right camera or camera lens to capture those magnificent creatures. It seems like you’ve been very lucky with the timing of your visits — I went to Komodo Island during the dragons’ mating season, which meant that most of them were hiding in the forest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right about the camera/lens issue. We bought a “fancy” camera before our first trip to Africa, but even then many of our animal shots don’t do the visit justice. What we really needed was a very good telephoto lens. Of course that all costs a lot of money and you’re schlepping around more stuff. I think there’s a happy medium somewhere in there. I’ll just have to remember that leopard high up in a tree (I certainly can’t see it in the photos I took!). Hopefully you’ll get to Komodo again when the dragons aren’t mating!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fabulous post Caroline. I loved all of it! That moment with the whales in the Broughton Archipelago sounds truly breathtaking. Komodo dragons have been on my list for a long time – you story won’t deter me 🙂 Oh and the mandarin fish and the lions – what miracles those encounters were. And the white-phase bear. I feel the same about the boobies and our Galapagos trip – one of the highlights of all our travels. There is nothing so heart-opening as seeing wildlife in the wild. Nothing really can beat it for me.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Alison. As I mentioned to Lexie, I think the way visitors experience Komodo and the quality of the rangers have probably improved in the past 30 years. It is an unforgettable experience. Make sure you spend time on Flores (right beside Komodo). It’s a magnificent island. Until I started thinking about this post, I hadn’t truly appreciated the extent of my wildlife encounters. As you say, it’s so heart-opening. I’ve been thinking a lot about Borneo as a potential next destination. Your wildlife photos from there really stick out in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Some cute, some terrifying (I struggle to even view the komodo dragons!), some oddball, some regal, some sad, some amusing, some colorful … all fascinating creatures to marvel at on our Earth! Very fun compilation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lexie! I hope that the tours of Komodo to see the dragon aren’t like the gong show we were on. I expect things have improved for both the visitors and the dragons in 30 years (she says optimistically). I stand by my comment that I don’t need to see them (in person) again.

      Like

  9. You’ve been to Komodo Island – I’m SO jealous!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow! All (except the sad hippo one) sound incredible, what a great collection. I particularly love the colorful mandarin fish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Diana. As I mentioned to Peta and Ben below, it was tough deciding whether to include the sad hippo story but it’s one that I’ll never forget.

      Like

  11. Caroline, we read the heading of this post and both settled in with joy to read about one of our favorite topics!! LOVED this post.

    Very jealous of the whale encounters while kayaking.. I don’t think I have every heard of anyone seeing a whale from a kayak! I can see where this could be a tad scary but overall no doubt one of those once in a life time moments.

    Love the visuals of the mating colorful fish in Indonesia. Flores islands in Indonesia remains for us as well a highlight of our travels. Best ever snorkeling experience by far.

    So so sad to read the story of a hippo being shot. Actually I felt shocked reading this… Because of course wild animals will only charge if they feel threatened so clearly he must have been too close, as you mentioned… awful.

    One of the things we have noticed with wildlife when on safari or on the ocean is that when a desired animal is spotted, then the cell phones call the other jeeps, guides, boats and all of a sudden, the areas is swamped and we have witnessed elephants in Sri Lanka getting quite upset by all the commotion – usually too close for comfort. This is the part of watching wildlife that can be problematic.

    Ahhhh Namibia. I went there with my parents as a teenager and it remains one of my best memories… for the flamingoes, the elephants, the lions.

    Love this post. Brilliant.

    Peta (& Ben)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Peta and Ben! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The whales in the Broughtons (an area between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland) are incredible. I’ve been on two kayaking trips there and saw many humpbacks and orcas (although the encounter in the photo was the closest one by far). It’s really magical camping there. Hearing the whales blow at night and in the early morning when tucked away in our tents is something I’ll never forget.
      Indonesia is such a great country for traveling. I’ve had wonderful snorkeling and diving experiences in Flores, Sulawesi, Bali…itching to go back.
      I debated about adding in the hippo story, but it was memorable, just in a really bad way. The ranger mentioned that this particular hippo was known to park management as one who lived apart from his group (shunned?). Where we were riding was apparently not his usual spot and I guess we caught him by surprise. Very sad.
      I know what you mean about the animal spotting and subsequent masses of viewers in some parks. We had read about this in Sri Lanka and decided to go Bundala Park to avoid some of this. There were very few people there and we had a good experience.
      Hope you guys are well!

      Like

  12. I love ALL of this Caroline!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fantastic. Great photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow….wonderful post, Caroline!! Beautiful captures!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow, you’ve travelled extensively. Where might you go next?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good question Neil. India had been on the plans for November 2020. Don’t think that will be the first international travel we’ll do post-Covid. For now, plans only go as far as exploring more of British Columbia this summer (not so bad).

      Liked by 1 person

  16. What a fantastic post! You have certainly had some incredible experiences that’s for sure! Seeing wildlife never gets old does it. I have had a few great experiences and seeing whales for the first time in South Africa has to be up there for me, it made me quite emotional. I haven’t been elsewhere in Africa, but it is very high up on the list for me, I hope I can get there one day. Great post, thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about those emotional moments. For that exact reason I wanted to add another story about elephants in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. It was quite overwhelming, but my photos are squirrelled away among many CD ROMs that I didn’t have the patience to look through. For that experience, it didn’t feel right using a stock shot. I hope you get to see more of Africa. The countries that I’ve visited there all hold very special memories and travel wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I’d expected.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, maybe another post then when you can get to your photos? It sounds like you’ve had lots of fantastic experiences in Africa? And it’s interesting to hear you say travel was as intimidating as you had expected, that is good to know! I was trying to sort out a trip for us pre-pandemic, but I found it quite overwhelming (not to mention expensive!)! It’s somewhere I really want to go though so hopefully I’ll get there one day!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I just wanted to clarify that travel there turned out to be NOT as intimidating as I expected. I’ve been lucky to visit Africa on three occasions and saw parts of Egypt, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania. All great. Especially loved Namibia. There are ways to keep costs down (like staying in government run park lodges rather than safari lodges). We also stayed in some very nice, reasonably priced B&Bs. We also rented a car in Namibia and S.Africa, which worked fine. Used a great agency in Namibia for planning called the Cardboard Box (https://namibian.org/). That was over 10 years ago, and they’ve changed names but it might be a good resource for you. Feel free to contact me through my contact page if you want more info at any time.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh sorry, that was my typing!! I did mean to write that you found it not as intimidating 🙂 Oh wow, you have covered a lot of ground in Africa! Thank you, I will bear that in mind and get in contact if (hopefully when!) we get the opportunity to travel there, I have found it difficult to know where to start. I wanted to plan a special trip for my partner’s birthday to Uganda, but covid has scuppered those plans for a while! We’ll just have to see what the future holds!

            Like

  17. These are some great moments! I’ve got to add Sri Lanka to my list!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. blue footed booby! LOVE that bird! But that shot of the Mandarin Fish is incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s the coolest bird, isn’t it! Unfortunately I can’t take credit for the mandarinfish photo, but that’s exactly what I saw on our dive. And not just one pair, but numerous. It was so awesome.

      Like

  19. I love this post! I can’t decide which of your stories is my favourite. Being beside the lions for a couple of hours would have been amazing. I also love diving/snorkling with sea lions, they are so much fun. Of course I love monkeys and the gentle grey langurs are one of my favourites. I’m so jealous of the white black bear in Kananskis, we did see the white grizzlly in Banff. It is bear season already here too. Our resident grizzly, Boo, is awake out of his den. After 18 or 19 years he finally learned how to made his own winter hibernation den. So this spring we can see him digging in the snow under the gondola. Ususally he’s in a small enclosed area until the ski season is over. They had to build an extra electric fence to make sure he couldn’t get out!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aah, thanks so much Maggie! The lion story stands out for me in many ways because it was our first time in Africa, I loved Namibia and Etosha Park, and we were so over the top excited about seeing lions. I can’t believe it’s already bear season in Golden. Is this especially early? Is Boo part of a protected grizzly area? We have a couple of grizzlies living in a protective enclosure on Grouse Mountain. They were both orphaned as young bears and could not have survived in the wild. They’ve been living on Grouse for years and have a very fancy den. I haven’t seen any news yet about them emerging.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes Boo and his sister Cari were orphaned when only a few months old in the Caribou region – Cari and Boo. Cari died in the first couple of years but Boo has been here 18 or more years. He has over an acre of bush below the gondola. It’s surrounded by an electric fence. He also has a man made den but this winter he didn’t use it. So this spring we see him every day when we go in the gondola. It’s fun to see him. They say they learned a lot about bears from him, mostly what is instinctual and what his mom would have taught him. It’s quite interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Wow! Great shots!!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: