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Unforgettable wildlife encounters

A day trip to the zoo was the highlight of many of our childhoods. Do you remember first seeing an elephant or a penguin, perhaps at London Zoo in Regents Park? As happy as these memories are, however, they have absolutely nothing on the feeling you get when you first see wild animals on the prowl, bathing, playing, or hunting in their natural habitat. Many people are brought to tears first seeing a wildebeest calf sucking its mother, or a line of elephant crossing a river trunk to tail. Out in the wilderness, with no bars of glass between you and the animals you are watching, there’s a certain rawness to the feeling. There’s no nagging sadness about creatures being kept in captivity: you – and they – can celebrate the fact that they are enjoying their freedom in mile after mile of rugged landscapes. Although you might be physically a few metres further away for safety, at the same time you feel closer to the wildlife, and to nature. And there’s often no one else around, it’s an experience solely for you. Here are a few fantastic wildlife encounters – close-ups which will take your breath away. Saruni Rhino, Kenya Spotting black rhino in the wild tops many wildlife lovers’ bucket list. Saruni Rhino, on Kenya’s Sera Community Conservancy, opened in 2017 and is the first rhino tracking experience in East Africa. Led by local Samburu guides, these extraordinary walking safaris not only bring you metres away from these incredible beasts, but also help fund their protection. On an early morning walk past the waterhole you can expect to see elephant, hyena, and impala, and the anticipation builds steadily with the knowledge that any minute now you will see your first wild rhino. Giraffe Manor, Kenya You might have heard of The tiger who came to tea, but what about the giraffe who came for breakfast? At Giraffe Manor, something which you’d assume happens only on the pages of a children’s picture book actually occurs in real life. This exclusive boutique hotel has a herd of habituated giraffes which come and go as they please. When you sit down for a meal, a giraffe might well poke its head through the window in hope of a treat. Out and about, you can take a walk with the herd, getting remarkably close to these graceful, docile creatures. Bisate Lodge, Rwanda Parc Nationales des Volcans was the first national park in Africa, and you’d be mad not to stay at Bisate Lodge: this stunning luxury lodge is located in its own amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone. But though the lodge is truly fabulous, it is the mountain gorilla in the park which are the real stars of the show. A small number of gorilla permits are issued each day to allow you to track them through the forest, accompanied by an expert guide. Several of the family groups have been habituated by scientists — a programme pioneered by the renowned primate researcher Diane Fossey — and you’ll be able to sit and watch for an hour. Prepare to be enthralled by the gorillas’ human like behaviour: after all, we do share 98% of our DNA. Luangwa Safari House, Zambia Hungry hippos! South Luangwa National Park is home to the world’s largest concentration of hippo. Forget what Disney’s Fantasia might have told you; these are no graceful ballerinas. Each hippo weighs up to 1,800 kg and they can be very aggressive indeed. Thankfully, guides in the park know how to approach the hippo safely so you can observe them at close quarters without disturbing them or putting yourself in danger. One of the best ways is on a boat safari, sailing gently along the river and then dropping anchor near to the pod. Wild dogs in Botswana‘s Kwara Concession It is often agreed among those who have been on a safari that without doubt, some of the most exhilarating wildlife experiences have been up close encounters with wild dogs. Watching the intricate family dynamics of these painted canines is a spectacle to behold, as they each have a unique role to play within the pack. Whether you’re sitting on the ground observing a den with a newly emerged litter of pups or hurtling alongside on a game drive as they weave through the bush in pursuit of antelope, you’re sure to recount your tales of these remarkable animals forever. This year at Kwara Concession, there is a denning pack with 11 new pups; beyond that particular pack, this concession, although vast, is famous for sightings of its thriving wild dog population. Here, in the northern edge of the Okavango Delta you may also see predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah, which are regular visitors in addition to the wild dogs. Laura Burdett-Munns is Managing Director at Africa Exclusive. Africa Exclusive has been creating the finest tailor-made safaris since 1990, specialising in luxurious accommodation in beautiful remote places. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. I adore the idea of a giraffe just walking up while having breakfast. I have never seen a giraffe in such a close setting so that would be a way to remember. I think it is so important we support conservations and places like this to help protect the wildlife. Hippos and wild dogs sounds just breathtaking too I could genuinely travel the world just to see wildlife. What has been your favourite experience?

  2. I think much of the magic of spotting wild life on a safari is the sheer drama and predictability of seeing animals. Of course the drivers and spotters have vast experience but there are never any guarantees. So when you do see that lion or those wild dogs the adrenaline rush and thrill is difficult to describe. I often feel sorry for the drivers, if they’ve spotted lions, a leopard or elephant – the passengers are engrossed, they just want to stay and watch for hours.

  3. I’ve only seen rhino from a distance at a zoo in the UK and I thought that was pretty amazing so I’d love to see a black rhino in the wild where they should be, free to roam and be happy. The same thing goes for giraffes, but I was able to get a little more close up to those. Absolutely gorgeous creatures, so sweet. It must be so unusual to have them right up close to the Manor, but obviously it’s just second nature for those working there to open the curtains and greet the giraffes every morning. I love that these experiences can contribute towards conservation and protecting the wildlife, rather than having tourism come at a detrimental cost.

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