Top Ten Family Vacations for Wildlife

Traveling with your family may always seem a bit wild, but visit one—or several—of these spots and you'll encounter the world's real wild side.
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hippo south africa
HOPEFULLY NOT HUNGRY: A hippo in the waters of South Africa  (Corbis)

There's a reason The Lion King was popular on Broadway. There's something special about lions and tigers (and bears). Wild animals are beautiful and unforgettable. Most people remember seeing their first live elephant. Or maybe it was a chattering band of monkeys they found so mesmerizing. In the old days, a fortunate few could afford an African safari, while the rest of us made do with zoos or seeing a deer or elk on a camping trip.

But times have changed. Wildlife tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry, with international "eco" tourism dollars helping to protect endangered species and habitats. Wildlife viewing has become much more accessible, while public awareness of shrinking habitats has increased efforts to preserve places worldwide as animal sanctuaries. Not only are there a greater number of wildlife preserves, but more opportunities to see animals in their natural habitat.

In the United States, zoos have become more animal friendly—with bigger areas for them to roam in settings that better mimic their natural habitat. While zoos are excellent places to view both domestic and exotic beasts, they don't compare to the experience of seeing animals in nature. For animals still running wild, refuges have been set up (like Wyoming's National Elk Refuge outside of Jackson) where the animals are safe from hunting and people can count on seeing not one or two, but hundreds. The growth of eco-tourism has helped other countries fund much-needed preserves, where endangered populations of animals can thrive and, of course, be seen by curious humans.

Now, families can add wild animal watching to their vacation to-do list. Whether it's a first-class zoo, a jaunt to a preserve, or a visit to a national park, kids and adults alike can see rare and unusual species in a safe, fun, and educational environment. Here is our top ten places to see wildlife list, but don't limit your appreciation of four-footed, feathered, and aquatic friends to our recommendations. When you plan your next vacation, ask if there's an aquarium, wildlife preserve, zoo, or aviary in the area. You (and especially your children) will be glad you did.


Published: 22 Apr 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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