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image of baby orang-utan
20 Feb

Close Encounters with Wildlife

It was big, black and hungry looking… and it was coming towards me. I stood my ground camera to my eye trying not to tremble. My finger pressed the shutter release repeatedly as the huge black bear began to fill the viewfinder. I sensed rather than saw the cubs behind me but continued shooting their mother. I was ignoring the one thing I know about bears; you do not come between mother bears and their cubs.

On my travels around the globe I have had many close encounters with animals; some were exhilarating and one or two were terrifying. All of them however, were memorable. I have highlighted some of these experiences below.

Watching Brown Bears in Europe

There are several places in Europe where there are populations of the Eurasian brown bear. In my view the best chance of seeing these creatures is in the Wild Taiga of Finland. You stay overnight in a comfortable hide in this wilderness close to the Russian border. In the morning the bears arrive and it is possible to see and photograph a full-grown adult or a mother and cubs from as little as 5m away. There is a good chance of seeing other predators too such as wolverines, arctic wolves and, if you are exceptionally lucky, lynx. Worldwide Wildlife offer several trips to Finland

European Bison in Poland

In the Primeval Bialowieza Forest in Poland you can track and see the rare European bison in its natural habitat. These animals are being reintroduced and with a guide this trip gives an opportunity to get up close with these animals and have the fantastic experience of tracking them as well. If it is winter there is also the chance to track, and if your lucky, spot wolves too. This trip can be arranged by Responsible Travel 

Walking with Wolves

Close to where the last wild wolf was killed in Cumbria, UK there is a chance to walk with wolves. Predator Experience offer guests the chance to walk with the wolf hybrid pack on the high Lakeland Fells and learn of wolf behaviour, their pack hierarchy and a little of the history of wolves in Britain and Europe. Walking foot by paw with these long misunderstood animals is a very memorable experience.

Polar Bears in Svalbard

Svalbard is an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole and is one of the best places to get up close to Arctic wildlife including polar bears, seals, beluga and walrus. Leading polar cruise ship operator, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE), is known for the large number of wildlife sightings on its voyages around Svalbard, as well as their ability to get up close to the wildlife. They focus on the western and northern coasts of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the archipelago, which boast the highest concentration of wildlife. Itineraries include hikes, zodiac cruises, visits to wildlife colonies and the opportunity to sea kayak.

Further afield there are two other wildlife experiences I would like to highlight.

Wildlife in Borneo

Borneo is well known for the orang-utan as well as sweeping golden beaches. The trip from Rickshaw Travel incorporates both beach and wildlife experiences. Top of the list is encounters with orang-utans followed by the chance to see other wildlife on a visit to the Tabin National Park where top of the list of numerous other wildlife will be Asian elephants. This wildlife trip is suitable for children over 8 years.

Kayaking with Orca

One of my most memorable wildlife experiences was kayaking with killer whales (aka orcas). In Johnstone Sound between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island I took a multi-day kayaking trip among the archipelago. We had dolphins fishing opposite our campsite and several times encountered orcas. These swam as close as 15m from our kayaks hunting salmon as they did so. During this trip we encountered a mountain lion in our camp and a black bear feeding on the foreshore. Sea Kayak Adventures have several itineraries available.

For those who are wondering about the encounter in the first paragraph I was photographing from a bear-proof platform which is why I survived and can write this blog post.

Wherever your adventures may take you to enjoy our worlds amazing wildlife, don’t forget your travel insurance. Our annual multi-trip travel insurance is packed with great benefits and is ideal for those who travel more than once a year.

Gordon Lethbridge is a travel writer who has travelled extensively. You can read his blog at where you can read about several of the experiences above in more detail.

Image Credit: Rickshaw Travels