The greatest wildlife spectacles around the world
In this annual migration, around 1.3 million wildebeest sweep across the East African savannah. (Mark Daffey/LPI)
Travel to destinations around the world to witness real animal magic, as creatures of all colours, shapes and sizes feed, court, fight and migrate.
Látrabjarg bird cliffs, Iceland
While Britain’s famed White Cliffs of Dover get their hue from the chalk stratum, Látrabjarg, the western-most part of Iceland (and Europe), can attribute the whiteness of its rocks to another source. These cliffs -- some more than 400m high and about 12km long – are stained by the guano left by the millions of seabirds that roost there in the summer. Even if you are not into bird watching, the comedic antics of the puffins and the swirling, squawking cacophony of razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, cormorants and kittiwakes is an extraordinary sight. Access to Látrabjarg is easiest with a car, though a bus runs three times a week between June and August from Isafjordur, the main town in the Westfjords region.
Monarch butterfly roosts, Mexico
Instinct is a curious thing. How does a creature that lives for only a few weeks or months know how to find its way to a spot that is thousands of kilometres away, without ever having been there before? Somehow, millions of Monarch butterflies make the annual migration south from summer territory in the US and Canada to spend winter in Mexico’s oyamel fir forests. Seeing clouds of these pretty orange, black and white insects would be impressive enough, but they also perch on trees in numbers huge enough to bend branches. The picturesque town of Angangueo, about 130km west of Mexico City, is a handy base for visiting the El Rosario Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
Great migration, Tanzania and Kenya
One wildebeest is amusing: a shaggy, skinny cow with a head seemingly too narrow for a brain. But 1.3 million wildebeest are unimaginably impressive. In a breathtaking spectacle, particularly from above, vast herds of gnu sweep across the East African savannah in an annual circuit, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebras, gazelles and elands – and the predators that feed on the rumbling masses. The wildebeest spend the December to May rainy season in the southern Serengeti, nosing northwest before crossing into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Most dramatic is the mass crossing of the Grumeti River, usually between May and July, where crocodiles wait to snap up unlucky wildebeest.
Brown bears feasting, Alaska, United States
There is nothing like the flavour of flapping-fresh fish, straight from the river – especially if you are a brown bear with a taste for salmon. From early summer, shimmering masses of salmon return from their oceanic feeding grounds and head upriver to spawn. When they hit the rapids and small cataracts, they make easy prey for bears – rather like a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. At the falls on the McNeil River, 1.5km upstream from its mouth in southwestern Alaska, huge brown bears, bulky from years of salmon feasts, gather to flip fish from the stream. Dozens of bears can be spotted at any one time, but only 10 viewing permits are issued for each day between June and August, allocated through a lottery.
Elephant gathering, Sri Lanka
When King Mahasen built the Minneriya Tank, a vast reservoir, in the Third Century, he probably was not thinking of animal welfare. Today the reservoir is the focal point of a national park, and the lake comes into its own in the dry season as elephants trundle in from reserves around the region. Forming enormous herds, with numbers peaking around August and September, they head to the tank for the world’s biggest pool party. This is known simply as the Gathering, where 300 or more thirsty pachyderms graze the lush grass, drink and play in the water. It is a unique opportunity to watch how elephants interact (noisily and boisterously, as it turns out). Jeep safaris organised through local hotels get you close to the lakeshore action.