By Scott Thornburn, Travel Writer
While America’s national parks are icons for both domestic and international travelers, how many of us make specific forays to national parks in other countries? Probably not many because the lure of exotic cities, food and culture most often take precedence.
However, for those whose passion is exploring wildlife anywhere and everywhere in the world, these parks become beacons of opportunity, even though, sad to say, some are as endangered as the animals and flora/fauna they harbor.
The following is a bucket list of eight diverse national parks for nature lovers for whom discovering wild and remote places and the rare and endangered species living in these habitats is a kind of dream fulfillment – like visiting the Louvre.
1) Bokeo Nature Preserve, Laos – Accessible only by an exhilarating network of zip-lines, this is among the few places in the world where lodging is in a tree-house 200 feet high in the rainforest canopy. Here gibbons sing love duets each morning as the mist burns off the rainforest. Bokeo can be combined with Thailand’s little-known parks, Kaeng Krachan and Klong Seang Wildlife Sanctuary for tracking wild elephants, clouded leopards, flying fox and more.
2) Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru – For biodiversity, this is the #1 park in the world, with an astounding 200 species of mammals. Its 13 species of primates include the pygmy marmoset, the world’s smallest primate, and the exotic mustachioed Emperor Tamarin. Fewer than 3,000 visitors annually enter the coveted Reserved Zone, one of the most pristine rainforests on earth.
3) Kafue National Park, Zambia – This country’s “secret” park holds possibly the greatest diversity of wildlife of any national park in Africa, according to Zambia’s tourism board. Prides of lions 20 strong and cheetah are among 158 species of animals in a region four times the size of nearby South Luangwa N.P. yet with less than 10 percent of the tourism.
4) Manas and Kaziranga National Parks, Assam, India – Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India’s least visited region between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Tibet and China. Kaziranga offers a safari experience unparalleled outside of Africa, said Cohen. “Imagine 40 rhinos, a few herds of wild elephants, a tiger and hundreds of deer and other large mammals, all in your field of vision all at once.” Manas, with breathtaking views of the Himalayas, offers a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve. Fewer than 6,000 foreigners come to Kaziranga annually.
5) Danum Valley Conservation Area, Borneo – While much of Borneo is loosing the battle against encroaching palm plantations, Danum Valley’s rainforest is so thick it has never been populated by humans. Known for its extreme biodiversity, the valley is home to the full range of Sabah’s lowland fauna sheltering the rare Sumatran Rhinoceros, Pygmy Elephants, Clouded Leopards, and Orang Utans.
6) Kaeng Krachan National Park and Klong Seang Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand – Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s largest and least visited park with only one road in, usually on foot and 4WD for spotting wild elephant and more. The lakeside wildlife sanctuary of Klong Seang features hundreds of inlets and coves best explored through a combination of long-tail boat and silent kayaking, offered exclusively Wild Planet Adventures, the only US operator in the park. Sumatran tigers have been sighted here; Wild Planet’s guests have seen the extremely rare Clouded Leopard here. Unknown and nearly inaccessible, a new floating aqua-lodge on the lake makes an ideal base near breathtaking limestone karst formations.
7) Coiba Island Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, Panama – An archipelago of 38 islands three hours off Panama’s Pacific Coast offers a barrier reef considered among the top 10 dive spots in the world, the largest protected marine wildlife sanctuary in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Encounters with four species of whales and others are both common and spectacular. Coiba also has its own endemic sub-species of scarlet macaws, and its beaches are a regular nesting site for green turtles.
8. Taiama Ecological Preserve, Brazil – Located on an island in Brazil’s Pantanal, one of the world’s largest tropical wetlands, the Preserve is a virtually unknown alternative to the controversial jaguar tourism in the Porto Joffre area that has the highest density of jaguars in the world. It is a federally protected area not open to the public and no tour operator is permitted to take tourists onto the reserve itself. However, it is possible to circumnavigate the reserve (an 8-10 hour boat ride) in search of jaguars. By utilizing biologist guides with strict sustainable protocols (including no radio contact with other boats), Wild Planet averages about 1.5 jaguar sightings a day in this area, often at close distance, for long periods of time, with no other boats around.
The expert wildlife guides of Wild Planet Adventures go the extra mile to explore remote wildlife habitat and study wildlife patterns in destinations not often accessible to the general public. Thanks to the company’s comprehensive itineraries that balance diverse and complex ecosystems and habitats, guests enjoy wildlife and game viewing that is carefully aligned with animals’ seasonal, daily and nocturnal migrations. For more information please call 1.800.990.4376 or visit Wild Planet Adventures online at www.wildplanetadventures.com.