Opportunities for close animal encounters in Africa are certainly not confined to the game reserve and national park safari packages. Far from it, in fact. For starters, Africa is blessed with glorious beaches boasting some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, so close encounters with all manner of rare and exotic marine life await. Then you have the myriad lakes and delta regions where close encounters with awe-inspiring predators such as crocodiles and the continent’s most dangerous animal, the hippo, are virtually guaranteed. And if that wasn’t enough, you have the rainforests of central Africa, where close encounters with the infamous Mountain Gorillas make for a truly unforgettable experience. So, here is a taste of what is on offer for those animal lovers out there who want some truly close animal encounters on this vast continent.
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Close Animal Encounters: Crocodile Cage Diving, South Africa
So, you’ve probably heard of Cage Diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa, but if that wasn’t an adrenaline pumping, a close animal encounter with one of the most feared predators on the planet, then maybe you should consider this: Cage Diving with Crocodiles. If you thought cage diving with sharks required a lot of guts, this undoubtedly requires even more. Why? Because for this close animal encounter, you have to consider these few points: Firstly, the waters you are slowly lowered into are crystal clear, unlike the murky ocean with shark cage-diving, so you can see these 4-metre long beasts with a bite 4 times harder than a great white shark’s in perfect high-definition clarity. And as crocodiles hunt their food primarily in the water, that is exactly how they see you: their next meal. So expect some really really extreme close encounters. But like the experience of cage diving with sharks, you will undoubtedly come away with a totally new perspective on crocodiles and their behaviour, appreciating how camouflaged they are in their natural environment, and how powerful – yet graceful – they are when they swim in for a lightening-speed snap at your cage. Your experience will also likely be filmed, taped, and given to you as part of the package. So it will be an experience you will truly never forget! This close animal encounter is definitely not one for the faint-hearted!
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Close Animal Encounters: Ostrich Riding, Oudtshoorn, Karoo, South Africa
So northern Africa – especially Morocco – is where thousands of tourists every year ride camels into the Sahara. And without a doubt, it’s a great experience if you are looking for a close animal encounter. And in South-East Asia elephant riding is high on the to-do list of the millions of tourists who flock there annually. Again, a great experience without a doubt. But if you are looking for something in Africa that is genuinely unique, you should consider Ostrich Riding in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. There you can ride Ostriches. They are surprisingly powerful beasts and can comfortably handle the human weight on their back whilst running at unexpected blistering fast speeds. In fact, there is even an annual “Ostrich Derby” there that you can participate in. However, beware, these animals may look ‘cute’, but they can run over speeds of 70KM per hour, have razor-sharp claws, and are incredibly powerful. Ostrich Riding will no doubt be a close animal encounter that will surprise you with its power and incredible speed.
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For a close animal encounter experience, which doesn’t require nerves of steel and is a lot more sobering, head for the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage just outside Nairobi, Kenya. Orphaned Elephants from all over Africa – not just Kenya – are bought here (mainly due to poaching) to be rehabilitated and then sent back into the wild. Here you can see the whole process in action. The elephants are washed, exercised, and fed before being sent back into the wild at Tsavo. This close animal encounter is especially magical because you get to see just how intelligent and emotionally-developed elephants are. They recognise every keeper and will even play mischievous tricks on them for their own entertainment. Stealing their keeper’s caps off their heads seems to be a favourite trick. But orphaned black rhino calves are also rehabilitated here, and the whole sanctuary is involved heavily in anti-poaching, anti-snare, and community education outreach projects. Although sobering at times seeing the effects of poaching on these innocent, intelligent animals, it’s simultaneously an experience of hope and an experience that kids will love (especially with the elephants playing their constant tricks on their keepers). Because by visiting here, you can make a meaningful difference by adopting one of the orphans and sponsoring their care and ultimate rehabilitation back into the wild. And if your kids come along, they might well fall in love with one, and thus adopting one would make a wonderfully altruistic birthday or Christmas gift for them.
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Close Animal Encounters: Snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Tofo, Mozambique
Tofo is a backpacker-haven on the Southern Coast of Mozambique, and it’s easy to see why. A warm, party-loving culture, amazing seafood, and gorgeous beaches make Tofo more and more popular every year. However, the off-shore reefs are fantastic here too for scuba diving and snorkelling. One of the most majestic, beautiful ‘big fish’ of the sea is a frequent visitor here (in fact, widely touted as the best place in the world to swim with them); the awe-inspiring Whale Shark. Because Mozambique’s shorelines the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, a huge supply of plankton is available in the ocean here, which explains why Tofo has one of the highest concentrations of whale sharks in Africa. And getting to swim with these gentle giants (despite the name ‘shark’, they are solely plankton eaters and completely harmless towards humans) is a dream many snorkellers and scuba divers rightfully have, and one they will undoubtedly never forget.