Spread your wings on a wild adventure: The best holidays for animal lovers, from helping protect puffins in Scotland to tagging Indonesia’s manta rays
- Here’s our pick of the best expeditions and experiences for animal lovers
- Get close to some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species
- Tours have research and conservation angles, so you can help out as you travel
Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the leg-work so you don’t have to. This week: Holidays for animal lovers.
Animal magic is in the air for 2020 with a host of new expeditions and experiences on offer that get you close to some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species. Many tours have research and conservation angles, so you can help out as you travel. Here’s what’s on offer around the world.
Under threat: You can see – and help protect – puffins on a four-day cruise of the Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa
The traditional five-yearly puffin census in Scotland will take place annually from 2020, as fears mount that climate change is hitting the bird population harder than previously thought. Join a four-day Puffin Explorer wildlife cruise around the Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa to see some of the biggest remaining colonies of the birds, absorb expert information on the new count and learn about local geology, mythology and other wildlife. With luck you won’t just see puffins: also expect seals and whales while eagles fly overhead. The trip ends with a whisky tasting and includes three nights in hotels from £699pp. (Haggisadventures.com).
The final 50
Marsican brown bears, above, on the conservation trips on offer
Hundreds of Marsican brown bears used to roam the forests of Italy’s Abruzzo National Park – but best estimates say little more than 50 now survive. You can track them and help with the conservation and wilderness restoration effort on a four-day wild nature tour with The European Nature Trust. As well as helping the research and monitoring efforts, you can see wolves, mountain foxes, red deer, wild boar and chamois. You stay in a family-run hotel and a remote mountain cabin. Trips from £1,450pp including a £500 donation to preservation charities. (Theeuropeannaturetrust.com).
Tagging the rays
Organisers call them ‘ocean expeditions with a purpose’ – holidays where you do more than just look at the wonders of nature. A new adventure tour from Scott Dunn joins forces with Conservation International and takes you off-grid (though in luxury on a stylish yacht called Rascal) through some of the most biodiverse, but threatened waters of the eastern Indonesian archipelago. You assist on ocean surveys and can help tag manta rays. A four-night exploration trip through Komodo National Park starts from £5,500pp, including international and internal flights. (Scottdunn.com).
The seals of San Francisco
Go behind the scenes to see vets and volunteers caring for animals, including sea lions and seals, suffering from pneumonia, malnutrition, trauma or maternal separation
Cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and follow twisting roads for half an hour northwards to the Marine Mammal Center. It’s a little-known animal hospital, treating sea lions, seals, sea otters and any other animals found in distress in the waters of northern California. Entry to the exhibition space is free but take the £8 guided tour and you go behind the scenes to see vets and volunteers caring for animals suffering from pneumonia, malnutrition, trauma or maternal separation. (Marinemammalcenter.org).
Ostriches in the snow
Guests at the Gstaad Palace, the ‘grand dame’ of Swiss ski hotels, get the chance to see some unexpected fellow visitors this winter. Take time out from the slopes to visit an ostrich farm and, if it snows, you may see the birds twist their necks trying to ‘drink’ falling flakes in what’s described as ‘a ballet in the snow’. The owners say birds used to cold South African nights thrive in Switzerland and have hatched more than 100 eggs in the past decade. Rooms at Gstaad Palace start at £384 per night. (Palace.ch).