Animal spotting around the planet

00:51, Oct 11 2012

I love checking out exotic wildlife in foreign countries. I'm easily pleased - exotic to me is any creature that doesn't hang out in the New Zealand bush. Which is almost all of them, pretty birds aside.

But despite our visiting some of the most animal-saturated places on earth, most of the big names have eluded us. I was gutted I missed out on seeing sea turtles in Tulum, Mexico, despite our host's assurances the waters were swarming with them.

A three-hour mission to find toucans at some ruins near the Belize border was also fruitless.

I was so desperate to see something in Mexico that I paid a stupid amount of money to watch a manatee come up for air a few times in the Sian Ka'an nature reserve. But despite our guide's stories about the presence of crocodiles, jaguars and pythons in the area, we missed them all. At least the ubiquitous iguanas didn't let me down.

My fears in the states about bears and cougars were unfounded (I would've liked to see one from a distance at least). I didn't even see a raccoon, that North American pest equivalent in peskiness to our possum.

It was time for the big guns. You're guaranteed to see awesome creatures in Africa, right?


We headed for Pilanesberg National Park near Sun City in South Africa. It's a self-drive safari park, which is the best kind, because if you're animal obsessed like me, you can spend as much time as you like roaming around, the only interruption an elephant or wildebeest in your road.

If I could spend the rest of my life with the African animals (provided they didn't eat me) I'd be happy. You can't get sick of eyeballing zebras in the tussock, watching inquisitive giraffes and ostriches peer through your car window or spying elephants frolicking at a watering hole.

The one animal we were all desperate to see, though, was a lion. You'd think they'd be easy to spot given their status - they have nothing to hide from. Not so. The oversized felines eluded us throughout our stay. We had one last crack at seeing them on a dawn game drive. Six of us split up into two cars to roam the park on our hunt.

Safaris are inherently competitive. "What did you see this morning?" You ask, hoping like hell you didn't miss anything. It's like a high-rolling game of poker: I'll see your lion hunt and raise you a leopard and three cheetahs. Your eyes are constantly peeled for the money shot.

Which is why Ted and I were gutted to get back from our lacklustre drive to our smug friends showing off their breathtaking lion closeups. I grilled them: "Where did you see them? How many were there? Did anyone else get photos?"

Charlie flourished under the interrogation: "We saw them in this area, there was just a male and a female - they walked straight across the road in front of us. The others were too scared to snap off any pics."

I was devastated until the other team cracked. The photos they'd taken were of big cats prowling across a brochure.  

We did get to see some real lions hunting wildebeest on our way out. They were set for the pounce until Ted accidentally tooted the horn while he leaned out the window for a better view. He won't live that one down for a while.  

Where was your most fruitful animal-spotting place? Where's your dream destination (Galapagos Islands for me)? And where have you hoped to see awesome creatures but missed out?

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