How To Rock a Baby Wombat

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know that I am a huge proponent of wildlife conservation. So when I had a chance to see kangaroos, wombats and Tasmanian devils up close, I was more excited than a kid!

The famous Tasmanian devil makes loud and disturbing screeching sounds

The island of Tasmania is located southeast of mainland Australia and the last landmass before Antarctica. Only half a million people live on the island, but there are a decent amount of visitors. The island is, however, abundant in wildlife. Tasmania is home to an incredible variety of animals, including four marsupial species that are now found nowhere else in the world. These are the Tasmanian devil, the eastern quoll, the Tasmanian pademelon and the shy Tasmanian bettong. There are also 12 endemic bird species in the state, some of which are among the most endangered in the world.

Located only a few minutes outside the city of Hobart is Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, a privately run and Tasmania’s largest 24/7 Wildlife Rescue Service and sanctuary where you can view many endangered native wildlife and take guided educational tours. Bonorong is not a zoo, as their animals are generally rescued, rehabilitated and released back in the wild. They also built Tasmania’s first Wildlife Hospital in 2018.

You never know what you will see at Bonorong. These are rescued animals, so most of them are not permanent visitors. Wombats, devils, quolls, native birds, koalas, lizards, snakes, kangaroos and emus – are some of the animals you are likely to encounter.

Only a professional like Randall knows how to handle a spiky echidna

During my recent visit, knowledge keeper, Randall, took me on a personal tour to meet Tasmanian devils, a wombat, and echidna. He fed the animals and told me their names and rescue stories – how a female devil was blind, an echidna who had a rare disease and the 18-month old wombat was separated from her mom. This was the only place in Australia I got to see the famous Tasmanian devils, so it was really special!

Isn’t this wombat the cutest thing you have seen?

I had seen wombats in the wild before, but here I cuddled a young female called Millie. She even went belly-up like a puppy right next to me!

The kangaroos are not afraid and will eat off your hands!

Families could walk around among kangaroos, and take as many pictures as they liked.

Bonorong offers public and private tours where you can learn about the animals, feed them, and walk around for up to 3 hours. The night tours are really interesting as many of the animals are nocturnal. All of the money raised through tickets and experiences goes towards maintaining the sanctuary.

Individuals and groups interested in wildlife rescue, animal husbandry, or manual tasks are also welcome to volunteer at Bonorong.

Where to Sustainably See Wildlife in South Africa

Seeing wildlife in South Africa may be on top of your bucket list, or just one of the things in your itinerary. During my recent visit, I felt there were more places to see wildlife in South Africa, than anywhere else in the world. The reason being there are not just one or two national parks, there are countless reserves, safaris, game ranches, sanctuaries, farms, and more.

Perhaps you aren’t aware that many travelers go to South Africa for hunting and poaching as well. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that allows private ownership of wild animals, so game ranching is a big industry. A simple google search will show you how many companies offer “trophy hunting” packages where you can select an animal to kill and bring back home. Many of them will claim that you are helping “conserve wildlife” by hunting the animals outside the parks that would otherwise harm agricultural land (which is usually not true). One such website offers an all-inclusive package of 1 x Impala, 1 x Blesbuck, 1 x Zebra, 1 x Redhartebeest, 1 x Warthog for only $5,000! Others, offer killing elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, and crocodiles. Sadly, majority of these hunters come from the US.

From Ash Adventure’s website

What I know is most of these animals are not really wild. They are the ones you have pet at so called “sanctuaries” that offer wildlife encounters (touching a lion, feeding a cub, walking with cheetahs, etc), even volunteer vacations taking care of animals. Therefore, the animals are attuned to humans. When they are released in a restricted area with a hunter, they don’t run away, and end up being killed rather easily.

So, if you want to see the Big 5, the best thing to do is see them in their natural habitats, which is mainly at Kruger National Park in South Africa, though there are a few other national parks where you can spot wildlife too.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money going on a safari, or perhaps are traveling with young kids who won’t appreciate being in the wild, there are other options to see wildlife in South Africa sustainably.

African penguins at Boulder Beach, South Africa

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Watch African penguins at Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town, about an hour south of Cape Town. This beachfront penguin colony resides in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area. You can kayak around the beach or watch them breed, swim, and moult from wheelchair friendly boardwalks. When I was there in late December, I saw lots of babies! Admission: $5 adults; $3 kids

White lion at Panthera Africa

Big Cats at Panthera Africa

See white lions, Bengal tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals and more at this sanctuary. Panthera Africa rescues captive bred big cats from private homes, circuses, game ranches and other places. The nonprofit’s mission is to allow the cats to spend the rest of their lives abuse free. They have plenty of space to roam, playtime and food. But unlike other “cat sanctuaries,” you can only visit Panthera for couple of hours a day, and won’t have any physical contact with the animals. Admission: $14 adults; $10 kids

African Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Here too you can see rescued orphaned elephants that are mostly sent on to private reserves to live out their lives. Advance reservations are needed for a guided visit where you will be briefly allowed to touch and feed an African elephant. The Knysna Elephant Park is a good place to learn about elephants, but if you want to see them in their natural habitat, go to Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. Admission: $23 adults; $12 kids; Free for under 5

Lunchtime in Monkeyland

Monkeys at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary

Monkeyland is possibly the worlds first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary, located in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. You will get up close with lemurs, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and gibbons. You walk through a jungle-like setting through a thick canopy of trees and a hanging bridge, while the monkeys go about doing their daily business, oblivious to humans. The best part is seeing all different species of monkeys come together over the dinner table! Please do not touch the monkeys. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Exotic Birds at Birds of Eden Free Flight Sanctuary

This is most beautiful bird sanctuary I have visited anywhere in the world! You can easily spend an entire day walking through 2 hectares of trails with different habitats. Birds of Eden is home to over 3,500 birds of over 220 species, with the main focus being African birds. Most of these are rescued caged birds that have only lived in small spaces and some are very friendly with humans. However, they go through a rehabilitation program where they relearn to fly, build flight muscles, and socialize with other birds. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Victims of lion bone trading displayed at Panthera

Please keep in mind that when you are visiting a fake sanctuary, petting a wild animal, purchasing animal products (such as zebra skin, tiger bones or ivory jewelry), or keeping wild animals as pets, you are directly and indirectly involved in the exploitation of wildlife.

To learn more about volunteering with animals in South Africa and big cat conservation, watch my interview with Panthera.

Beyond The Beaches…Seven Must Have Experiences in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not like other islands where all you do is lay on the beach and snorkel in the sea. Sure there are plenty of places to do that around Sri Lanka, but it is also a country full of rich cultural activities. Here are some experiences you should not miss during your visit…

Get an Ayurvedic Massage

Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal practice based on natural plants and roots. Because Sri Lanka is abundant with natural resources, spices and flora, it has used ayurveda to prevent and heal diseases of the eyes, skin, breathing, digestion, and mental health for thousands of years. One of the best places to experience ayurvedic treatments is Siddhalepa Resort where you can consult with an experienced doctor, receive massage treatments based on his/ her prescription, and enjoy organic healthy meals. The Siddhalepa Group has hotels in Wadduwa and Mt. Lavinia in Sri Lanka, as well as in Berlin, Sliac and Bad Homburg. They manufacture over 400 kinds of oils, balms, elixirs, cosmetics and teas, so make sure to pick up some gifts to take back.

Shop at an Open Air Fish Market

Fishing is the main occupation for locals in southern Sri Lanka. It is interesting to see fisherman carrying their large nets on wooden boats heading out into the sea early morning, and returning to the shore with their fresh catch at sunset. The chef from Cinnamon Bey Beruwala hotel showed us where he gets his daily catch from and we picked our dinner together at the market. If you are lucky, you can also see stilt fishing, where fishermen perch balancing on poles, careful not to cast shadows in the water, as they skillfully draw spotted herrings and mackerels from the shallow waters.

Watch Traditional Mask Dances

The ancient traditional of dancing wearing devil or spirited masks was another way of chasing away health and mental issues. Rituals would start at night and go on until sunrise to chase demons out of the human bodies. These masked dances were also performed during comedy shows and for entertainment. You can see how the intricate and colorful masks are handcrafted of very light wood in the village of Ambalagodan. At Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, I also watched live mask and fire dances.

Take a Safari

The Sri Lankan safari experience is very different from what you may have experienced in Africa. There are dense tropical forests with thick canopy, so it’s difficult to spot leopards (though they exists). Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot wild elephants, deer, monkeys, wild boar, buffaloes, peacocks and other exotic bird species. Plan to spend at least half a day in an open air jeep to get a good view of the local animals.

Go Whale Watching

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean along the coast of Sri Lanka make for one of the ideal places to sea whales in the world. From Mirissa, a charming coastal village in the south, embark on a whale watching cruise early in the morning and spend a few hours looking for the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale, with experienced guides. The best time to see whales in November to April, though you may be able to spot them year round in Sri Lanka. For whale watching along the Pacific Coast of America, san diego whale watching will make for a fantastic and unique day out.

Feed and Bathe Elephants

I am strictly against riding elephants as in most cases the animals have been captured, trained and abused to make a profit. But at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, baby and adult elephants who have strayed away from their packs, found on the roads, or orphaned and brought to live freely in an open space. They seem to be well taken care of. Some of the elephants who previously worked and interacted with humans are allowed to be fed and bathed by visitors, for a small fee. I enjoyed feeding chunks of pineapples and watermelon to a charming lady, with the assistance of a local guide. Please remember you cannot touch, ride, or even go close to wild elephants as they are very dangerous.

Cruise Down Madu Ganga River

The Madu River area is a swampy marshland covered in mangrove forests and abundant in wildlife. You can spot over 100 species of birds, reptiles, butterflies and molluscs when cruises on a boat safari through the river. Additionally, you can visit locals living around the river who live on cinnamon and fishing industries. Stop to visit an open-air fish spa, watch how the locals peel cinnamon, weave palm leaves, purchase cinnamon soaps, tea, oil and spices directly from the source.

Get Lucky! Have the Most Amazing Safari Experience

Are you addicted to those National Geographic documentaries on Wild Africa where they show lions hunting down a buffalo or thousands of wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti? I have probably exhausted the entire selection on big cats and wildlife shows found on Netflix. So, when I planned my trip to Masai Mara in Kenya with The Village Experience, I was very excited to get up close to the animals, this time in reality.

What I didn’t know was that I would be so, so close! And there would be animals everywhere! We (meaning my guide and I) really didn’t have to drive around looking for them. From the moment we were driving on the highway close to Lake Naivasha, I saw zebras running around. Over the next 24 hours, I saw 70 lions, 3 cheetahs, 1 leopard, and thousands of giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, hippos, and buffalos!

Some people may think that this is an everyday sighting at a game drive in Kenya. But in fact, I was truly lucky. A few of my friends have been on safaris 4, 10, even dozens of times, and seen only a fraction of what I saw! Some of it may just be luck, choice of season, or my wonderful presence, but there are things you can do in advance to have an amazing african safari experience.

Stay close to the reserve

There are all kinds of tented camp accommodations around the animal reserves, some offer more luxury than others. My lodging at Sekenani Camp were comfortable and luxurious. I had hardwood floors, a deck overlooking a creek and a en suite bath tub with hot shower. I could hear hyenas, lions and birds from my bed all through the night! Don’t worry, there is always a security guard who accompanies you from your tent to the restaurant and around the property so you never walk alone at night.

Sekanani Camp was a 20 minutes drive from the Masai Mara park’s entrance. Being so close to wilderness meant, we really didn’t have to go very far to spot the animals. Zebras and giraffes were roaming right outside our camp.

Hire an experienced guide

I cannot emphasize enough how much a good driver and guide can make or break your safari experience. My guide, Danson Kahuria, was born and brought up near Masai Mara so he was quite familiar with the territory. He had also gone to college to learn about birds and animals, and conducts workshops of other guides.

Danson had a keen sense for knowing where the animals would be and how they typically behave. He could predict when a lion cub was about to yawn, which direction a leopard would walk towards, and which animal a cheetah was about to hunt down. As a result, I got to saw the big cats in action – eating, sleeping, mating, hunting – all in just a few hours!

A good guide will also maneuver the car (following park guidelines) in such a way that you can get the best photo opportunities! Since Danson knew which was the animals were going to turn, we were always ahead of their game.

Have some patience

If you have limited days, (I only had one) it is best to leave early morning for a game drive and plan to stay till sunset. Animals behave differently at different times of the day, so you want to be able to see their moods. My advise is to wear comfortable clothing, carry sunscreen, bug spray, a light jacket and lots of snacks and water for the day. I have heard stories of people going in a group and one of them was hungry so they left the park after a couple of hours. Remember you have to pay hefty entrance fees ($80-200/ person) so make the most out of it! Also, pack lots of extra batteries and memory cards. I took 500 photos and videos in less then a day!

Depending on your vehicle, you may have open roof or sides, to allow good viewing. But it also means more sun, heat and bugs, so be prepared.

Sunsets in the mara are spectacular. Don’t miss it.

Respect the animals

Remember, you are in the habitat of wild animals. Take every precaution to respect that by not getting out of your vehicle, feeding them or attracting their attention. Some people get excited and want to get closer, but park rangers are always secretly watching and will fine you if you get off the marked trails. Also, please do not litter the park.

An African safari is a bucket list for most people. If you get a chance to be one of the lucky ones to see wild animals in their natural habitat, do it right the first time!

7 trips that put families in close contact with local wildlife

Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Cancun

Fulfill your family’s ultimate once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure by taking a dip with whale sharks – the biggest (and most friendly) fish in the world! From May to September, families staying at sister properties CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa can embark by boat to snorkel alongside these magnificent gentle giants where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. Though they measure up to 40 feet long and weigh in at 15 tons, whale sharks feed exclusively on plankton and are totally harmless to humans. Added perk: guests at the Cancun Marriott Resorts can check out a GoPro HER04 for the day to capture unbelievable underwater family photo ops.

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JWCM_Cancun_WhaleSharks

Explore the Costa Rican rainforest

For an unforgettable nature-filled vacation, families should head to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, spread across 900 acres of natural rainforest reserve in Costa Rica’s northern region — an area responsible for 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. With more than 500 species of local plant and wildlife on property, kiddos just might spot a coatimundis, toucans or howler monkeys. Families can have nearby animal encounters with activities like horseback riding, ziplining through the trees, rainforest tours and more. As an added bonus, the carbon neutral resort offers an eco-friendly environment that teaches kids about sustainability and how to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Tabacon_wildlife

Swim with sea turtles in Barbados

SUP dude? For an unforgettable animal encounter, families will love Colony Club‘s stand-up paddle board (SUP) and turtle swim excursion. Starting out on the white, warm sands of Barbados’ renowned beach, families will paddle out to The Lone Star Restaurant, one of the local, turtle hangouts, and dive into the crystal blue waters to get up-close-and-personal with the island’s friendliest marine animals – the once-endangered population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

 

Hangout with reptiles in Curacao

Situated on a 27 acre plantation of rare natural preserve, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curacao offers an island-within-an-island feel with some of the most varied and exotic flora and fauna in the Caribbean. Through the resort’s eco-friendly, locally inspired Camp Arawak program, kids will love the chance to feed the resort’s resident iguanas. Plus, in between watersport adventures like snorkeling and paddleboarding, families can observe hawksbill turtles nesting along the resort’s private beach every July through September.

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TripAdvisor

SBBGR_Beach

Paddleboard with Dolphins in Jupiter, Florida

Hotel guests staying at the oceanfront resort can head to the nearby Blueline Surf & Paddle Co., and work up a sweat navigating the mangroves of the Intracoastal Waterways on a 90-minute paddleboard eco tour, where you might see manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Complimentary beach cruisers are also available for resort guests to get the heart pumping as they explore the charming, seaside town’s iconic landmarks, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center.  

Encounter sea lions, blue footed boobies and penguins galore in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique species in the world, and Ecoventura’s fleet of eco-friendly cruises brings families face to face with daily excursions through the archipelago’s diverse islands. From swimming alongside sea lions (and plenty of curious sea lion pups) to watching the Blue Footed Boobies shake their feet in a mating dance, snorkeling with penguins off the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella. In a destination as pristine and protected as the Galapagos, wildlife wanders freely and fearlessly in the islands, meaning parents and kids are in for the trip of a lifetime.

Ecoventura_Galapagos

Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico

A kayaking tour through the mangrove forrest of the Laguna Grande takes families to a secret hideaway — Fajardo’s bioluminescent bay. A short drive from San Juan, the magical waters are filled with millions of prehistoric organisms that when touched, leave a breathtaking glow in the moonlight. The excursion, organized by the family friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, invites families to learn the history and science behind the twinkling trail in the bio bay while enjoying a ride under the stars.

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Feed alpacas and llamas in Cusco

The colorful city of Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas is the perfect destination for adventurous families looking for a rich dose of culture. A short drive from the city center, Awana Kancha – a llama, alpaca and vicuña farm — brings families face to face with the region’s most loved furry animals in all shapes and colors. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the resident animals eagerly awaiting to be fed giant handfuls of grass. The interactive feedings are followed by textile weaving demonstrations by the local women keeping the tradition alive. After a day long day of adventure, families can relax in  the historic JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 16th century convent turned hotel whose lobby is frequented by alpacas and llamas.
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~ Contributed by Julia Cavalieri, account coordinator at Diamond PR. Follow Julia on Twitter @diamondpr