People travel for all sorts of reasons — a change of scenery, to rest and recuperate, to experience a new culture or to see new sights. Indeed, if you were to sit down and compile a list of all the reasons why people travel, you would probably end up with hundreds. One of the most enthralling reasons that people travel is to experience animals in their natural habitat. The most obvious example of such an experience is the safari — from the Swahili word for journey/exploration — where travelers hope that nature will cooperate and enable them to experience the ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Cape Buffalo and leopard).
Experiencing animals in the wild is not necessarily limited to just safaris though. You can go whale or dolphin watching around the world in places such as Vancouver Island and Quebec in Canada, Iceland, Dominica, Baja California, Colombia, Scotland, the Azores, The Western Cape, South Africa, Sri Lanka, South Island, New Zealand and, would you believe it — Tonga!
If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous you can swim with giant manta rays in Indonesia or get up close and (relatively) personal with brown and grizzly bears in locations as diverse as Alaska, British Columbia, Finland, Greece, Romania, India and Cambodia. You can even go swimming with wild piglets in the Bahamas.
Want to walk with giraffes? Then get yourself off to Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya. Or how about walking with lions? You can do that at Wild Horizons in Zimbabwe. Want to cuddle a Koala? Then Hamilton Island in Australia is probably one of your best bets.
Speaking from personal experience, I have had the great pleasure of swimming with stingrays in the Bahamas; petting huskies in Tromso, Norway and have even managed to play with both cheetahs and tigers in a sanctuary in South Africa. I’ve even been brave enough to get up close and personal with a great white near Gansbaai in South Africa — not for the faint of heart.
I still have a few items left on the Bucket List though. There’s the polar bears that I can experience if I take myself up to Svalbard; gorillas in the mist if I go to either Rwanda or Uganda and I can even get to swim with black tip sharks in the Bahamas with no cage in sight.
Of all the experiences with animals that it is possible to have on the face of this beautiful planet of ours, perhaps the one that I crave for most is the one that most people have never heard of and that is the opportunity to swim with and pet jaguars! Tell me more, you say. Well, you need to take yourself to Honduras in central America. Located about 90 kilometres off the Caribbean coastline is an island called Roatan and located off Roatan is an even smaller island called Little French Key. Although Hondurans speak Spanish on the mainland, English, surprisingly, is the language most spoken on both Roatan itself and Little French Key (or Cay). Here you will find a sanctuary for a variety of wild animals that includes jaguars that have been rescued from various sources including circuses.
I know some purists will say that humans have no business interacting with animals in this way but if they’ve already been domesticated to some degree or cannot successfully be returned to the wild and if the revenues that accrue from such tourist endeavors help to fund the continuation of such services, then I feel it can be justified to some degree.