Best National Parks/Protected Areas for Mammals

Hola! I’m wondering what you think the best protected areas in the world are for mammal watching. I saw a few of you did a “Top 50 Mammals” list and was thinking about what some entries could be for a list of best places to see mammals. Factoring in diversity, endemism, iconic large mammals, etc… I’m wondering what mix we would see of classic parks (Kruger, Yellowstone), major PAs in other regions (Manu? Dzanga Sangha?) and lesser known diversity/endemism hotspots (something like the Nilgiri Biosphere in India, and I guess a few possibilities would exist on islands like PNG or Madagascar?).

I’m thinking any national park, game reserve, refuge, etc… maybe even just any “location”/”spot”.

Looking forward to your thoughts!!

25 Comments
  1. Profile photo of tomeslice
    tomeslice 7 months ago

    That’s a great thread.

    I would definitely say that Kruger is up there. I don’t even remember how many species we saw there over 5 days but it must have been close to 40.

    Corcovado in Costa Rica has to be one of them too – in one hike we saw Tapirs, a tamandua, 3 species of monkey, collared peccary twice, central American red brocket, and a Humpback whale..

    Of course the Ngorongoro is one, but I had a shitty guide/driver so I didn’t see a serval (still, to this day) and I feel like we missed other things too, but its the best place to see a black rhino during the day, and you easily see over 20-30 species on a single game drive.

    Also Deramakot in Sabah. We got there by like 5pm, and before the evening was over we saw elephants, a binturong, a gliding colugo, 2-3 species of giant flying squirrel and 1 lesser flying squirrel, a Leopard cat, 3 palm civets including banded, a slow Loris, and possibly more stuff that I don’t remember. On the second day we saw like 3 cats, only one which was identified as a Leopard cat, but another one may have been a flat-headed, Malay Civet, yellow-throated Marten, proboscis and two macaques, etc. So really excellent place. Also for clouded Leopards and sun bears, which have been seen there more frequently recently.

    I’m not sure about Manu – I think the infrastructure for mammal watching there has not reached its potential yet. There are SO many species, and no tours that concentrate on mammals, maybe we should organize one.

    But the southern Pantanal, should be amazing for mammals. More so than the northern part, it seems like. I saw jaguars, giant antesters, Tapirs, ocelot and both otters in the northern Pantanal, but I feel like the southern part, which I have yet to visit, would be even better with nightly ocelot if you stay at the right places, and better chances for the smaller cats. Plus more giant anteaters, chance for Bush dogs and giant armadillo.

    That’s my input 🙂
    Cheers

    • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

      @tomeslice:

      That’s some haul in Kruger! I was not counting yet when I had the opportunity to visit South Africa (Kruger and Pilanesberg), but I hear you 100%: Kruger sightings included a honey badger (!), African wild dogs and serval. I definitely want to shout out Pilanesberg here for the brown hyenas and caracal.

      Amazing hearing about those Latin American parks! Pantanal definitely sounds like the tops, especially for carnivorans. I haven’t had the chance to go after any Western Hemisphere mammals in my life, so jaguars and ocelots and bush dogs and the like are the dream (although the absolute best would be maned wolf!)

      Corcovado also seems to appear frequently in lists… I think the marine proximity adds to the X factor there, as would be the case for Yala in Sri Lanka or Gabon.

      Deramakot sounds extremely exciting. Southeast Asia’s mammal-watching infrastructure is generally weak, yes? Clouded leopard and sun bear possibilities aside, the cat and civet diversity alone is a huge draw. And yes, I recognize the carnivoran bias in this post.

  2. Alan D 7 months ago

    If your looking for iconic North American mammals then Yellowstone is the place. Elk, Moose, Black Bear, Grizzly, Pronghorn, Black-tailed Deer, Bison, Coyote, Wolves, Bighorn Sheep, Red Fox, Mountain Goats, the list goes on and most are easily seen the right time of year. There is also a pretty good supply of smaller mammals like Pika, Marmots, Badgers, Weasels, Ground Squirrels, etc. There’s a reason I’ve visited around 10 times. If you include Grand Teton the scenery is tough to beat too.

    I second the Pantanal. Both the Northern and Southern parts were amazing. In a Two week trip we saw Jaguars, both kinds of Otters, Giant Anteater, Tapir, Fox, Capuchin, Marmosets, Coati, Agouti, and more including the less common Ocelot, Crab-eating Racoon and Brazilian Rabbit. Heck we even saw a colony of Vampire Bats.

    The Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is great as Tomer says. I haven’t been to the park but have stayed multiple times at a lodge nearby. Four kinds of Monkeys, two kinds of Sloth, Two kinds of Peccary, squirrels, Tamandua and we even saw a Silky Anteater and a Tayra (on our 4th visit).

    Yasuni National Park in Ecuador is worth a visit. We stayed at the Napo Wildlife Center. I’ve got two words for you… “Pygmy Marmoset”…such a thrill to see those little guys. Tons of other monkeys and other mammals there as well.

    Northern California (Monterey, Point Reyes, Ocean trips) is pretty nice as well. Many mammal Great Days are done there. The mammal watching is more spread out but Point Reyes is still probably the best place to see bobcats.

    Tomer, you have my mouth watering about Sabah. We will be there (with 4 nights at Deramakot) in a couple months.

    Africa would be on my list I am sure but I have yet to visit. So many mammals to see….so little time and money.

    I’ve got trip reports posted on all of the above and I am sure this thread will grow quickly as others chime in.

    Alan

    • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

      Drooling at that Yellowstone list. Since this looks to be the most likely Western Hemisphere trip in my future, I wanted to ask what time of year you would recommend for the wolves, grizzlies and some of those smaller carnivores. Also: notably no cougar or bobcat; are there better parks in the area for the cats?

      I’ll check out that trip report!

      • Alan D 6 months ago

        mbwamwitu, I think May is one of the best times to go to YNP. It’s before the crowds get too bad and most everything on my list should be viewable (some with a lot of luck though).

        Bobcat are seen on rare occasion and Cougar even less so. Northern California is a great place to see Bobcat (We have seen them at Point Reyes every time we have take a multiday trip there in winter. I don’t know the best place for Cougar these days..probably Chile from what I have read.

        Alan

        • Profile photo of tomeslice
          tomeslice 6 months ago

          I second @focusedonnature about Northern California for Bobcats.

          I was unlucky in the Tennessee Valley and in Point Reyes which was very suprising, but even more surprising was that I got a bobcat inside Yosemite in the snow-covered Yosemite Valley!!! I even took some recognizeable (though not award winning) pictures to prove it 🙂
          In the ±48 hours I was in Yosemite I also got an American Marten at 6:00am on the road coming down from Mariposa Grove, and I know ringtails are quite common in the valley, but at night and it’s not allowed to spotlight there. I had a run-in with a ranger over that. I think one could go around that by going further away from the residential areas.

          But the point is that Northern California is over-looked in terms of mammals. There are many species that can be seen there, with Point Reyes having about 20 species of finable mammals including both marine and land mammals from skunks to northern elephant seals.

          For pumas there are 2 places as I understand it:
          1. Torres del Paine = sometimes prolonged and close views of the mountain lions
          2. Paraguayan Chaco = More individuals, lower quality of sightings, but many many more species finable including geofroy’s cat, jaguarundis, jaguars, etc.

      • Miles Foster 6 months ago

        Yes, as Alan D says, May / early June is a good time, it’s early spring, the weather is not quite so harsh, most if not all the roads are likely to be open and the park is coming to life. There are hardly any mosquitoes about and the ‘out-houses’, if you have to use them, are just about bearable – later in the season they will be absolutely foul and swarming with mosquitoes and flies. It’s less crowded and most people you meet are likely to be keen and knowledgeable. More importantly, the bears are down in the valleys gorging on new grass and searching for elk calves. Elk and therefore wolves are also easy to see. Lamar Valley is tops as mattinidaho says. Bobcats and cougar are another matter! From what I have read, I agree Northern California and Chile do seem to be the places to go.

        • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

          All your votes for May makes good news for me because that falls within my time in the US. Looks like I’ll be shooting for YNP as an introduction to Nearctic (actually, any kind of Western Hemisphere) mammals!

          “Prolonged and close views” of those cougars in Chile sounds incredible, though. One day, the Southern half of the Western Hemisphere!

          Good to know about Point Reyes, in case I make it to the West Coast… definitely would have wanted to see those elephant seals either way! Summer, though, so not sure about those bobcats.

  3. Mike Richardson 7 months ago

    For nocturnal South African mammals Marrick Safari in Kimberley is a fantastic destination. I’ve seen Aardvark, Aardwolf, Caracal, Black-footed Cat, Cape Porcupine along with more common species. More recently African Hedgehogs and Zorilla have become more reliable.

  4. Miles Foster 7 months ago

    I am always looking for ideas for trips so this is a great topic. A few places that have certainly lived up to their reputation have been:

    Yellowstone
    Bandhavgarh
    Corcovado (among others, Tomer’s trip report was very helpful in planning our Costa Rica trip)
    The Pantanal
    South Luangwa
    Californian coast – for whales
    Husavik, Iceland – for whales

    • Profile photo of tomeslice
      tomeslice 7 months ago

      I’m glad that my trip report was helpful 🙂
      I just went back and read the whole thing again.. Wow, so many typos and misspellings!!! Lol.
      And I really did not spare any information, from what hours of the night I woke up and planned to hike but didn’t because of the pouring rain, to how I pulled over on the wrong side of the road to try to find the puma that crossed the road right in front of me, as my flashlight launched forward from the passenger seat where I placed it. Pretty entertaining stuff 😛

      Thanks!
      Cheers!

      P.S.
      I agree with all the stuff everyone else posted here too… Really excited about Dzanga Sangha in **1 month and 4 days**!!!!! 😀

      And still beating myself over having been to Torres del Paine before my mammal watching days.. same with Iguazu falls, Tikal, Wasai Lodge in Tambopata Nature Reserve in Peru, and many many other places that I need to revisit with a new agenda.

    • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

      Yellowstone, Corcovado and Pantanal seem to be clear winners out west!

      Re: Bandhavgarh, as someone who used to live in India and spent a lot of time in the Central parks, I rate Bandhavgarh lower than Kanha and, more recently, Tadoba.

      I think this is a great place to shout out Tadoba, which is arguably my favorite park on earth. More reliable tiger sightings than Kanha or Bandhavgarh, without having to resort to the elephant-back “tiger shows” that restrict viewing time and, arguably, irritate the animals.

      Additionally, better chances for all the iconic large Central Indian mammals: sloth bear, dhole, leopard, gaur, golden jackal, etc. The lack of gaur in Bandhavgarh is a HUGE negative for me. If you’re going to make it out to Central India, our big ox is a must! Bandhavgarh is more scenic and probably better for wolf, though, and Kanha is the only one with barasingha.

      • Miles Foster 6 months ago

        Yes, I agree about Kanha, mbwamwitu. I hesitated over my choice but plumped for Bandhavgarh because of the high density and apparency of tigers, the landscape, and the general feel of the place with its historical associations, ruins, folklore etc. But, of course, no barasingha or gaur (though, interestingly, I see that the park’s own website does list gaur…). Kanha also has blackbuck and is a must for those very special barasingha. I completely agree about ‘tiger shows’ – we stipulated that we did not want them and had good tiger sightings in both Kanha and Bandhavgarh without them. I have not been to Tadoba but will certainly consider it after your glowing recommendation – thank you. I think Satpura is worth a mention too. We had a great sighting of a sloth bear with two cubs riding on her back as well as numerous ‘white’ gaur among others.

        • Profile photo of Ewan
          Ewan 6 months ago

          Guar were reintroduced to Bandhavgarh at some point. They were there in 2013, I don’t know what may have happened since then.

        • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

          Oh, the history and ruins are definitely a huge plus for Bandhavgarh! Forgot about the landscape and ruins entirely. The forest up there is generally more interesting scenically than in lower Central parks like Tadoba or Pench.

          Ah! Reintroduced Gaur, true. I still think that the herd size and frequent sightings you get in Kanha or Tadoba are worth it, though. Forgot about the blackbuck! I’d say the quadfecta of subcontinent-endemic antelope (nilgai, blackbuck, chinkara, chowsingha) is a good edge in this discussion. Although, if we venture outside the realm of mammals, I’ve got to give you another point for Tadoba: crocodiles 🙂

          Never made it to Satpuda! Definitely a big regret, would have loved to see those albino gaur. I also saw an image somewhere (not sure if it was Mammalwatching?) of a tiger or leopard trying to figure out how to eat a pangolin (!) that was taken at Satpuda… that says nothing about pangolin chances but still strikes me as cool.

          • Profile photo of tomeslice
            tomeslice 6 months ago

            A Leopard trying to eat a Pangolin! That was posted by Luc Van Den Bergh, who I will be meeting in 3 weeks in Yaounde, Cameroon!!! 🙂

  5. Profile photo of Jon Hall
    Jon Hall 7 months ago

    Lots of good suggestions here. On the basis of combined points for scenery. adventure, diversity and a chance to see species you would struggle to find elsewhere, I would add Torres del Paine and Chiloe Island in Chile, a bunch of Madagascan parks, the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia, Dzanga Sangha in the CAR, the Pond Inlet area of Baffin Island, the Mongolian Gobi Desert and, in China, the Tien Shan Mountains and the Qinghai region of the Tibetan plateau. Jon

    • mbwamwitu 6 months ago

      Your Dzanga-Sangha trip report inspired this post!

      (That, along with your reports on the wolverines in Finland and fantastic trips to India, inspired me to take up more mammal-watching, once I can get myself to more places.)

  6. Profile photo of Antee
    Antee 7 months ago

    Not yet mentioned, TAPICHE reserve, Peru.

    Probably the best place in the world to see Red Uakaris.
    For me, in 4 days I also saw:

    * Common Opossum (Night boatcruise along the river)
    * Southern Tamandua (Early morning walk in the forest)
    * Three-toed Sloth (Boatcruise on the way to the lodge)

    * Yellow-crowned brush-tailed tree rat (Late morning in the forest. Really cool sighting. Posing nicely on a branch for 5 minutes)
    * Unidentified rat in the kitchen

    * Southern Amazon Red Squirrel (Saw them on all four morning walks)
    * Neotropical pygmy squirrel (One fast glimpse on a morning walk)

    * Tucuxi dolphin (so many of them in the area)
    * Pink river dolphin (So many of them in the area)

    * Bolivian Squirrel monkey (Everyday)
    * Venezuelan Red howler monkey (2 of 4 days)
    * Brown Capuchin monkey or Large headed Capuchin (3 of 4 days)
    * White fronted capuchin (2 of 4 days)
    * Saddleback Tamarin (2 of 4 days)
    * Wolly monkey (3 of 4 days, not sure which species of them, silver, brown or grey…)
    * Red Uakari (1 of 4 days)
    * Nancy Ma’s night monkey (1 of 4 days)

    Add to that a thriving birdlife and species like Black Caimans, Spectacled caimans, Yellow spotted amazon river turtle and alot of cool insects and spiders…

    Also great possibility of:

    * Saki monkey.
    They are quite easy to see in the area but i didn´t have time for them as the Red Uakari was time consuming.

    * Collared Peccary.
    Saw fresh footprints and could even smell them. We missed them with minutes.

    * Capybara.
    I thought I would see them but no. Alot of footprints along the riverbanks.

    *Titi monkey.
    We heard them. But as they are living in thick bushes in the lower part of the forest they are hard to see. We failed.

    * Tayra.
    They are in the area.

    I think Tapiche reserve is definitely worth mentioning.

  7. mattinidaho 6 months ago

    Lots of good choices here. I would add Kaziranga, a great place to easily see a lot of Asian large mammals: one-horned rhino, wild water buffalo, Asian elephant, hog deer and sambar are all abundant. Smooth-coated otters and freshwater dolphins are quite findable. I also saw a hog badger, an incredibly cool mammal. Nearby is a great site for Hoolock gibbon, as well as other primates and squirrels.

    I love the Serengeti during the wildebeest migration. It remains the most spectacular and awe-inspiring wildlife spectacle I’ve seen. Coupled with all the predators and other ungulates, plus lots of smaller critters, I find it one of my happy places. I also think Tarangire is an underrated national park. Huge numbers of elephants and a nice diversity of mammal watching, including lesser kudu if you are willing to go off the beaten path. I think the crowds are quite easy to escape in both Serengeti and Tarangire, and you can go most of a day without seeing another car…if you have time. I find both much better than Ngorongoro Crater.

    Manu does not have a mammal watching infrastructure. I loved it there but finding mammals was difficult as it often is in rainforest. I still saw some cool species including emperor tamarin.

    I’m a big fan of Yellowstone, especially the Lamar Valley. Glacier and Denali both also have plenty of large mammals.

    • Profile photo of tomeslice
      tomeslice 6 months ago

      Manu is definitely one place I will have to come back to at some point.
      I think the emperor tamarins there are pretty easy in 2 very specific locations. One is the lodge that’s right at the intersection of the Madre de Dios river and the Manu River. We saw them there in the morning, and it says on the website of Manu Expeditions that they’re frequently seen there, so we weren’t just lucky. Also in Cocha Salvador we saw a mixed group of emperor tamarins (our first encounter with them) and pygmy marmosets (our only encounter with these)! That was definitely a highlight for us. My buddy John even got it all on Video.
      If we had a mammal watching excursion there with more night activities, we may find that many more species are findable around Manu Wildlife Center, Cocha Salvador and Cocha Cashu, for which you can get a special permit for staying there.

      Cheers!
      Tomer

  8. mbwamwitu 6 months ago

    Amazing suggestions and information from everyone! Great to see the clear standouts in the Western Hemisphere (Yellowstone, Pantanal, Corcovado, Torres del Paine, etc.) and some of the strong parks in lesser developed regions like SE Asia.

    Since the Nilgiri Biosphere is the only spot I mentioned in my first post that hasn’t been discussed, I thought I would give it a plug:

    The Nilgiri actually consists of several close but separate protected areas (Nagarahole, Bandipur, Wayanad, Indira Gandhi WLS, Top Slip, etc.), which may be why no one thinks of it as an individual entity for listing, but it is full of endemics like the lion-tailed macaque, 2-3 kinds of langur, Nilgiri marten and Nilgiri tahr nearby. All of those except the marten are pretty easy to see… Jon’s report is instructive, and would have helped on my trip! It’s also easy to see dhole, leopard, sloth bear, elephant, gaur, smooth-coated otters and more in Nagarahole. Oh, also endemic mongooses, and slender loris.

    Oh, they’ve also been recently seeing a black leopard regularly over the past few years… those interested in melanistic individuals, there’s quite a strong opportunity to see a black leopard in Kabini / Nagarahole right now. Not sure if there are any other “probable” black leopard locations right now?

  9. Profile photo of Antee
    Antee 6 months ago

    Yolyn Am in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia.

    Yolyn Am is a deep and narrow gorge in the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains of southern Mongolia close to Dalanzadgad in Gobi area.

    I had the most crazy spotlighting at this place where I within a couple of hours saw:
    1 Snowleopard
    2 Pallas cat
    1 Red Fox
    2 Steppe Polecat
    1 unidentified pair of eyes. Could be Lynx or a lonely Wolf, because it surely could not be another Snow Leopard, right? 🙂
    7 Siberian Ibex

    Where else in the world can you spotlight for Snow leopard from a car?

    There is other places in Mongolia as well.
    Ikh Nart nature reserve.

    Best place for Siberian Ibex and Argali Sheep. You can sneak on them in the mountains and get really close.
    Unfortunately I didn´t spotlight here but it must have huge potential for Pallas cat and Eurasian Lynx as it is a project for them in Ikh Nart.

    • Profile photo of tomeslice
      tomeslice 6 months ago

      That’s F****ng amazing!

      Despite having seen a snow leopard (although from afar) Mongolia goes really high on my list of places to visit in the near future. Also with Jon Hall’s recent sighting of a marbled polecat.

      Speaking of Marbled Polecat, I’m in touch with a guy who will help me find one in Israel… I’ll report when I have more info. At least I now know in what areas to try to look for them.

  10. mbwamwitu 6 months ago

    Another spot I had forgotten earlier: Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.

    It is a little light on some of the species people are after in east Africa, but has some amazing scenery (breathtaking gorges, crater lakes, canyons, endless herds of kob, massive hippo congregations, etc.) and some very interesting species.

    Apparently, there are 95 mammal species. Giant forest hog are almost guaranteed; definitely saw several over my few trips there while I was in Uganda. Uganda kob themselves are an unusual “most common” species, plus there’s topi subspecies of tsesebe, side-striped jackal, and lions that have adapted to climbing trees.

    There’s also sitatunga, but a much better spot for them is just outside of Masaka (Nabajjuzi wetland), a town that’s on the road to QENP. Stopped there on the way and saw sitatunga along with shoebill (for birders).

    Unfortunately, there is no spotlighting, but if you can manage to plan your trip or drive in such a way that you pass the air strip area at night… that’s where I have seen an aardvark!

    Finally, the park has a significant amount of forest, in addition to the open habitats, with habituated chimpanzees, ten primate species, etc. My guess is that there’s a lot of good Central African species there.

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