Ecotourism allows travelers to leave a smaller footprint while exploring the wonders of Mother Nature. And some of the best places to travel off the beaten path are home to some of the most endangered creatures on earth. However, there are ways to view them that are safe for everyone involved.
Nature reserves allow adventurers to observe endangered species in areas set aside for animal conservation, and many provide opportunities for excursions. Guided tours, traditionally led by local experts and scientists, aim to showcase the beauty of wildlife while ensuring that nature remains just that – completely natural.
We have put together a list of such travel destinations and structured it so that you know where to find which animal.
(Note: All locations listed below are home to threatened animals – Critically Endangered (CR), Critically Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU) – as categorized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) or the International Union Red List for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Where population estimates are available, these have been included.)
Lomako-Yokokala Fauna Reserve
Democratic Republic of Congo
There are wild bonobos along the Congo River; Their threatened status was caused by civil unrest and low birth rates. Visiting the bonobos is a multi-day endeavor that includes hiking, rustic sleeping conditions, and a good taste of jungle life.
Black-footed ferret (DE)
Shirley Basin, Wyoming
The black-footed ferret was once thought to be extinct, but a discovery in 1981 told a new story. Cloning has helped increase this ferret population, but only to about 300. To see them in the wild, visit Shirley Basin, Wyoming. The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC also just welcomed baby ferrets, featured on the Black-Footed Ferret Cam.
Monarch butterfly (DE)
Canada, USA and Mexico
Each fall, monarch butterflies travel 1,200 to 2,800 miles from north to southeast Canada to central Mexico as part of their winter migration. Watch them migrate in Point Pelee National Park (Ontario), Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (Texas), and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (Florida).
Galapagos penguin (DE)
The Galapagos Islands
Galapagos penguins are notable for being the only penguin species north of the equator and in the Galapagos Islands. According to the WWF, fewer than 2,000 remain. The islands of Isabela and Fernandina are the best places to see the penguins, but they can also be seen on the islands of Floreana, Santiago and Bartolomé, where tourists can swim with them around Pinnacle Rock.
Western lowland gorilla (CR)
There are so few western lowland gorillas in the wild that it’s unlikely you’ll see one during a trip to Africa. Instead, opt for a visit to Zoo Atlanta, home to one of the largest populations of these great apes. The Great Ape Heart Project, conducted by the zoo and veterinary partners, studies cardiovascular disease in gorillas, the leading cause of mortality among great apes in captivity. It is also a world leader in gorilla social and cognitive research.
North Atlantic right whale (CR)
North Atlantic Ocean
These baleen whales are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as Canada’s Species at Risk Act. As the name suggests, they are found in the North Atlantic, near Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, and in the northern regions of the United States and Canada. Whale watching tours in the area are your best chance to see the creature.
Finless porpoise (CR)
Yangtze River and coastal waters
Asia’s longest river was once home to two species of dolphins. Today only the finless porpoise remains, although in small numbers. While diving in the East China Sea and other coastal waters, one can catch a glimpse of the unique creature, which is missing a dorsal fin.
Borneo elephants (DE)
Tabin Game Reserve
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is home to numerous endangered species and exotic wildlife, including Borneo elephants (fewer than 1,500 in the world) and Banteng cattle (EN). The lowland rainforest area is accessible to tourists and popular with photographers and bird watchers. Visitors can enhance their experience with a jump into the on-site waterfall.
Green Turtle (DE)
The green turtle is found from the Hawaiian Islands to Guam, Madagascar, and the Caribbean, and places in between. They are known to migrate from beaches to deep waters, encountering predators such as fishing boats and egg hunters. A dive to a reef or a visit (at a safe distance) to a beach during breeding season provides the opportunity to observe these creatures.
Siberian Tiger (DE)
Kedrovaya Pad Biosphere Reserve
Due to human activities and natural phenomena such as forest fires, this reserve in the Far Eastern regions of Russia, near China and North Korea, hosts the only example of a South Ussuri-Taiga climate on Earth. In 1916, formal boundaries were established for the area, leading to the development of an ecological education program. It is home to the Siberian tiger (approximately 400 remain in the wild) and the Asiatic black bear (VU).