There are few things in life more rewarding than spotting wild animals in their natural habitat. Since this is an unpredictable adventure the term rewarding often is preceded by nervosity and excitement.
We still remember that very moment when we encountered three polar bears in the wild. How our legs were shaking as we were caught off guard and hoped the polar bears would stay at a safe distance.
Or the experience of kayaking in the middle of a group of beluga’s in Spitsbergen.
Encountering a wild animal in the wild brings great memories and stories, still getting this experience isn’t always easy. Here are a few tips for spotting wildlife successfully.
1) Location – be in the right place
To see an animal in the wild, you need to be in his natural habitat, obviously. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to see polar bears in Africa. (except for this one)
If you really want to see a polar bear, you need to travel to Svalbard or Canada. Are you looking to see wolves, bears or lynx, then Sweden is your best option. We have written a guide to help you see Wildlife in Sweden in and where to find them.
2) Season – be there at the right time of the year
The behaviour of animals changes throughout the year. As bears hibernate in winter, you probably won’t be very successful if you try to see bears in snow. Your best chance to spot a bear in Sweden is during the early Summer right before the berries are ripe.
Another example – when we went snorkeling in Belize, we had hoped to see manatees. Unfortunately it was the wrong season as they tend to migrate to different areas.
So, depending on which species you are interested in, you should learn more about their behaviour patterns throughout the year, and then decide when to go.
3) Habitat – be in the right type of nature
Besides the location or destination where you can see the animal that is on your to spot list, it is important to figure out what type of landscape and plants are important parts of his habitat. Beavers are best seen near rivers or lakes, while your best chances of spotting the Big Five in South Africa in dry season is when staying close to water resources.
4) Time – be there at the right time of the day
Cockscomb Basin in Belize has the highest density of jaguars in the world. Still, only few visitors catch a glimpse of these mighty animal. Why? The nature reserve is often visited as a day trip, with people leaving in the late afternoon. However, jaguars are nocturnal animals who are most active at night and in the early morning.
The same goes for many species of animals. Pay special attention to their daily routine and be there at the right time!
5) Be quiet – listen carefully
Most animals will see, hear or smell you long before you are aware of their presence. They observe you and, depending on how far you are away and how you act, they decide to stay, defend themselves or flee.
To avoid them from hearing you, keep talking to a minimum. Step lightly, not to break twigs underfoot and turn off your cell phone.
Whether you’re searching for wildlife or observing it, you’ll be more successful if you rely on more than just your eyes. Listen for cracking twigs or branches, animal calls, or the flutter of birds’ wings to help you locate animals.
6) Wind direction – don’t smell
The sense of smell of an animal is way more developed than ours. Most animals even have better smell and hearing than eyesight, so it’s very important that the animal won’t smell you even before you are able to see it.
Wind direction is an important factor in this scenario. We all have an odor, one that is even worse after several days of hiking in the outdoors. So make sure you run into the wind if you want to get a closer view.
Also, wearing colognes, perfumes and scented lotions might not be the best idea.
7) Camouflage – be invisible
While their sense of smell and their hearing might be best, don’t neglect on the fact they can see you as well. A bright yellow jacket is pretty easy to spot in a green forested environment. Wear clothes that match the habitat colours and don’t rustle. In some occassions, using a hide is a must.
8) Keep your distance – be patient
Find a good spot and be prepared to wait. Where are these animals often seen? Wildlife spotting may require lots of time spent just sitting quietly waiting for something to happen. Even though this might seem pretty boring, it is more rewarding than you would expect.
9) Bring the right equipment
Ideally, you don’t want to spot a polar bear or lion on just 10 meters. At least, not if you’re not safely on a boat or in a 4WD. Bringing binoculars may be worthwhile, while a camera is recommended to capture that special moment.
Other important gear that might be usefull include gps, map, compass and appropriate clothing.
10) Local advice
This is by far the most important research you can do. Locals may have seen the animal in a certain place or know inside information about his behaviour. Though more expensive, a guide might prove to be your key to success.
One of our best wildlife encounters: