LOVE WILDLIFE BUT SHORT ON TIME?
You don’t need to head out into remote wilderness – even on a city stopover you can enjoy incredible encounters with animals ranging from lions to lemurs and from gorillas to gargantuan whale sharks just a short hop from the airport
WATCH FOR: Squirrel, vervet, capuchin and spider monkeys, ring-tailed, ruffed and brown lemurs, elephant, meerkat, bushbaby
The encounters: Monkeys aren’t just monkeys – they come in all shapes and sizes, with personalities and behaviour each their own. At the Monkey Sanctuary a little north-west of Johannesburg, rescued monkeys and other mammals from Africa and, particularly, the Americas are cared for in a natural forest environment, where visitors can wander and watch them play and forage in the trees. You’ll see tiny, so-so-cute spider monkeys; tufted capuchins, with their perky hairstyles; and maybe, if you visit close to dusk, the nocturnal bushbaby, with its heartbreakingly big eyes. The nearby Elephant Sanctuary offers the chance to walk hand-in-trunk with mighty tuskers and help their keepers brush them down.
Enjoy the experience: Both sanctuaries are near the Hartbeesport Dam northwest of central Johannesburg. The Monkey Sanctuary runs guided tours on the hour from 9am to 4pm; entry is R195. The Elephant Sanctuary offers an Elephant Interaction Experience starting at R565.
KQ flies: three times daily to Johannesburg.
WATCH FOR: Lion, black rhino, cheetah, hippo, leopard, giraffe, zebra, ostrich.
The encounters: In most cities, skyscrapers dominate. But in Nairobi’s flagship reserve it’s another big grey behemoth that grabs the attention: the critically endangered black rhino. Though it’s just a few kilometres from the capital’s CBD, Kenya’s first gazetted national park spans 117 sq km of savannah, woodland, riverine and wetland habitats, and harbours a sizeable cross section of the region’s wildlife. It’s best known as East Africa’s most important rhino sanctuary – some 50 black rhinos, recently joined by a contingent of their white cousins, graze the plains – but a game drive can also reward with sightings of big wildebeest and zebra herds, more than 500 bird species and even lion kills.
Enjoy the experience: Half-day tours are offered by most Nairobi safari companies. Entry to the park costs Ksh300/US$40 for East African residents/non-residents, by means of a Kenya Wildlife Service Safari Card, issued at the main gate. www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/NANP.html. You can also stay within the park at Nairobi Tented Camp (www.nairobitentedcamp.com/nairobi-national-park), with B&B rates starting at US$130 per person; the camp arranges game drives and walking safaris.
KQ flies: to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from more than 50 cities worldwide.
WATCH FOR: Whale shark, Djibouti francolin, barracuda, green and hawksbill turtles, manta ray
The encounters: Each year between late October and early February, plankton blooms in the Gulf of Tadjoura attracting dozens of whale sharks to a bay called the Goubet al Kharab – the ‘devil’s cauldron’ – an important feeding ground for juveniles, and easily accessible from Djibouti City. Though spotted off Djibouti’s coast throughout the year, these vast creatures – at over 12m long and weighing 12 tonnes or more, by far the world’s biggest fish – can be seen in large numbers at this time, and diving and snorkelling trips offer great opportunities for swimming with them.
Enjoy the experience: Dolphin Excursions offers snorkelling and dive cruises, with whale-shark encounter day trips to Ras Korali (US$80).
KQ flies: weekly to Djibouti.
WATCH FOR: Oryx, turtle, lappet-faced vulture, caracal, Arabian gazelle, jerboa, flamingo
The encounters: The Arabian oryx is a graceful, even princely creature, its slender white body topped with magnificent long, ringed horns. Extinct on the Arabian Peninsula 40 years ago, it was reintroduced a decade back and is now thriving in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Safaris into the desert offer the chance to see these fascinating antelopes, as well as small mammals and birds. There’s sea life to spot in Dubai, too: watch as green and hawksbill turtles, nursed back to health by the Jumeirah turtle rehabilitation project, are released back to the sea. In the city, Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is an internationally recognised wetland site, home to more than 270 bird species including greater flamingos.
Enjoy the experience: Platinum Heritage offer tours in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve; a half-day costs AED 545.
KQ flies: daily to Dubai.
WATCH FOR: Gorilla, mandrill, chimpanzee
The encounters: Meeting a gorilla usually involves a tough climb into the mountains of Rwanda, DR Congo or Uganda, or a trek into the forests of Central Africa. But at Mefou you can enjoy a face-to-face encounter with critically endangered western gorillas as well as the world’s largest monkeys – mandrills, extraordinary baboon-like creatures with vividly hued faces. This important sanctuary, only 45 minutes from Yaoundé, rescues orphaned and injured gorillas, chimps, various monkey species and other primates, and cares for more than 300 animals in spacious enclosures within a natural forest setting.
Enjoy the experience: Mefou Primate Park is a 45-minute drive from central Yaoundé, near Nsimalen Airport. It’s open daily, and entry costs 7,500/1000 cfa for
KQ flies: five times weekly to Yaoundé.
WATCH FOR: Red and Fallow deer, fox, pipistrelle bat, ring-necked parakeet, stag beetle
The encounters: The red deer is the UK’s largest native land mammal: males grow to 190kg and mature stags sport huge racks of antlers up to 1m across. But even more impressive than their stature is the bellowing roar of a mighty stag during the rut in October and November, when males size each other up and compete for mates. Fallow bucks and red stags go head to horned head in these noisy tournaments that can end, antlers locked, in a wrestling match. London’s Richmond Park is home to more than 600 deer that have roamed its grasslands and woods for nearly 500 years.
Enjoy the experience: Richmond Park is open daily from early morning; admission is free. Trains to Richmond from central London take around 30 minutes, or under an hour from Heathrow Airport.
KQ flies: daily to London Heathrow.
Watch for: Shoebill, chimpanzee, lion, leopard, serval, elephant, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, cobra, African grey parrot
The encounters: Against stiff competition, the shoebill just might be Africa’s oddest-looking bird: over 1m tall, with broad wings, baleful yellow eyes and a beak that looks like a Dutch clog with a sharp hook at the tip. It’s also a totem species for birdwatchers, seen in only a few swamps – and at this important rehabilitation and conservation centre just 5km from Entebbe Airport. Here you can see Uganda’s key habitats – savannah, wetlands and forest – in microcosm, and meet some 200 of their fascinating inhabitants including steely-eyed crocs, rhino and eland, elephants and playful otters, all rescued from poachers or illegal trade.
Enjoy the experience: Uganda Wildlife Education Centre is 5km east of Entebbe Airport on the road to Kampala. It’s open 9am to 6pm, and entry costs 30,000/10,000 Ugandan shillings for foreign/East African visitors.
KQ flies: five times daily to Entebbe.
WATCH FOR: Polar bear, Komodo dragon giant panda, elephant, giant river otter, giant salamander
The encounters: The steamy, tropical city of Singapore might seem an odd place to meet a huge, furry carnivore most at home among the ice floes of the Arctic – but Inuka the polar bear is the star of the new Frozen Tundra zone at Singapore Zoo. And he’s among a host of huge creatures to see at the zoo and its partner Night Safari and River Safari attractions: look for giant reptiles (Komodo dragons), giant Amazon river otters, Chinese giant salamanders and giant pandas.
Enjoy the experience: Wildlife Reserves Singapore operates the Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari, as well as contributing to international conservation. Admission to the zoo costs S$22.
KQ flies: daily to Singapore with codeshare
WATCH FOR: Lemurs, chameleons, Coquerel’s sifaka, Madagascar radiated tortoise, iguanid lizard
The encounters: The Great Red Island is renowned for its unique wildlife – from diverse lemurs to huge colour-shifting chameleons, bizarre-looking giraffe weevils and the curious cat-dog-mongoose carnivore the fosa. You could spend weeks looking for the elusive aye-aye and other lemur species – but for a close encounter with a selection of the island’s special creatures, head just over 20km west of capital Antananarivo (Tana) to Lemurs Park. This compact sanctuary rehabilitates rescued former pets, and is a great setting for watching nine species of lemurs in a semi-wild state. Also watch for crowned and Coquerel’s sifaka and huge Oustalet’s chameleons.
Enjoy the experience: Lemurs Park is 22km west of Tana on the RN1.
KQ flies: to Antananarivo three times weekly.
WATCH FOR: Pink dolphin, white bellied sea eagle, black kite, green turtle, pangolin, leopard cat, finless porpoise
The encounters: Some of the world’s most curious-looking and appealing sea creatures breach and leap from the waters at the mouth of the Pearl River – ‘pink’ dolphins. These are Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins but, instead of the regulation grey colour, in Hong Kong’s waters they are a blushing hue. Eco-tours have a 97% success rate, so you’ve a good chance of sailing alongside these playful cetaceans. To the east, cast off from Sai Kung and paddle a kayak to deserted beaches and between the striking rock formations of the geopark and you might spot white-bellied sea eagles, finless porpoises, reef herons and humpback whales. In the city centre black kites can be seen among the skyscrapers.
Enjoy the experience: Hong Kong Dolphinwatch runs half-day tours for HK$380 per person. Kayak + Hike offer full-day kayaking trips from HK$700 per person.
KQ flies: three times weekly to Hong Kong.