Best Mammal Watching Experience

A couple of months ago I was chatting with Mac Hunter (of the legendary Borneo 2016 trip which scored Clouded Leopard, Marbled Cat and Pangolin) and Charles Foley (the original Big Mammal Day-er). We were comparing our favourite mammal watching experiences and they encourage me to collect other stories from you all … So here goes.

What is your favourite mammal watching experience? Of course the species involved is going to be an important influence in our picks, but context is also key: some sightings are truly wonderful because of where we were, how hard we hard worked, what the animal(s) were doing, how close we came to death  and so on.

Would love to hear some stories (preferably in 100 words or less). I haven’t decided on mine yet!





  • mac hunter

    Let me prime the pump and attempt to give a model of brevity with my top ten, appearing in the order that they occurred to me so perhaps reflecting priority:

    Black rhino: My first sighting was of a charging male, about 15m away; fortunately, it missed our car, a tiny Citroen. (Tsavo, Kenya)

    Northern right whale: We were only a few boat lengths from a dozen males churning the sea, trying to mate with a single female. (Bay of Fundy, Canada)

    N. Am. river otter: A lunch at home was interrupted by screaming outdoors: a family of four otters fighting for a fish with a pair of bald eagles. (Penobscot River, Maine)

    Mountain gorilla: Two contrasting memories from three trips: a young one resting with its hand on my knee and a rambunctious adolescent that knocked three of us over with one swing of his arm. (Virunga Mountains, DRC & Bwindi Forest, Uganda)

    Am. Black bear: My first encounter was with a mother playing defense as her cubs climbed a tree; my closest was 1.5 meters away looking out from under the rock that I was standing on. (Grafton Notch & Amherst, Maine)

    Numbat: After three days of fruitless searching we were driving out of the parking lot when one ran in front of the car, but we were able to hop out and follow it for twenty minutes (Dryandra Woodland, Western Australia)

    Long-tailed pangolin: Years of searching and suddenly there was one 2 meters away at eye-height in broad daylight and we were able to follow it for many minutes (Ankasa Forest, Ghana)

    Cheetah: Watching a mother training her cub to hunt and sharing the experiences with 22 of our students, drenched in tears of joy (Serengeti, Tanzania)

    Ethiopian wolf: Arguably the best sustained wildlife-watching ever with a gorgeous creature in a spectacular setting actively engaged in interesting behavior. (Bale Mountains, Ethiopia)

    Belugas: Surrounded by a pod of thirty, with some passing a couple meters below my kayak, turning on their side to look up at me (Saguenay Fjord, Quebec)
    Reviewing the list I am glad that four were close to home (two even in my backyard) but sorry that Latin America (tapirs, giant anteaters, and primates), Europe (polar bears and badgers) and Asia (takins, tigers, tarsiers, and cloud leopard) did not make the list.

  • Judy

    I had the pleasure of being in India some years ago and spent a full week at Bandhavgarh. We saw several tigers every day, including a female taking her 3 very cute cubs out for a walk for the first time and, on one late afternoon, a pair mating in preparation for next spring’s litter. It was superb tiger viewing.

    Towards the end of the week we were given a choice between another tiger viewing morning motored by elephant, or a trip to the fort on Bandhavgarh hill, which rises some 811 meters above sea level at the center of Bandhavgarh National Park. I chose the latter, thinking a little bit of history is a good thing.

    While the rest of the group stayed to enjoy the 3rd century fort, I wandered off for a short hike along a small path between the reflection pool and the jungle to see what I might find. I thought perhaps I’d come across some Common Langurs, Rhesus Macaques, mongoose or Spotted deer. One never knows what might be out and about. Unbeknownst to me, one gentleman had decided to follow along behind me.

    I heard him jokingly say “there’s a tiger”. I wondered why it was guys think this is funny.

    After rolling my eyes I looked up. Not 8 feet away was a very large and spectacularly beautiful adult tiger stepping out of the jungle, eying me with her right eye while she turned onto the footpath ahead and started to walk off.
    I stopped for only a moment before following (apparently the enthusiasm of the moment caused my frontal lobe to go dark). I calmly followed her for perhaps 30 yards, as her stride took her further and further ahead of me, before she turned around the right corner of the reflecting pool, gave me a quiet snarl, and took a sharp left back into the jungle.

    Moment of a lifetime. To this day my most extraordinary and treasured experience with any animal.

    Sometimes you get lucky. Very happy to still be here to tell the story.

  • geomalia

    My best mammal-watching experience was on one of my solo night walks at Manu Birding Lodge, Peru last summer. It was about 3:00 in the morning, and I was waiting to see a mammal I had heard crunching leaves in the undergrowth (probably a Paca). On a whim, I decided to shine my light down the trail, only to see this large shape with orange eyes approaching rapidly and silently. After a few seconds, I saw the spots. The Jaguar wasn’t stopping, so I said “stop,” and it did only a few meters from me. We stared at each other for a minute, face-to-face, before it turned around and returned to the darkness. A couple minutes later, I checked further ahead only to see it was returning. It halted at the same place, and stared again. The Jaguar began to lower its hind legs, probably to sit, but maybe to pounce, so I said (literally) “you don’t want to eat me,” and it got up and disappeared into the forest.

    Runner-up: the blind at Nantu in Sulawesi. I loved watching the Babirsuas, and I also got to see Anoa a couple times.

    • Jon Hall

      I love this story. Good job the Jaguar wasn’t a Spanish speaker! I am not sure what I would have done, but suspect whatever I did it would have been far more panicked!

      • geomalia

        I must admit that for I checked behind my back every few minutes for the remainder of the night, to make sure the Jaguar wasn’t stalking me. That said, if it wanted to eat me, it would have.


  • Vladimir Dinets

    I’ve been mammalwatching for over 40 years, so there’s been plenty of nice experiences and it’s difficult to choose. Here are the first 15 that came to mind. (I omit aggressive encounters such as being treed by a tiger, being charged by an elephant at close range, having to through a jacket over the head of an attacking puma, and having to shoot a man-eating bear point-blank when it tried to break into a log cabin I was in. That’s not what mammalwatching should be about, I think.)

    1. Ussuriland, August 1986. I found a stretch of a forest road that was used by a subadult male tiger almost nightly. There was a small gazebo where you could comfortably sit and wait for the cat to walk by. The last time I saw him was in March 1997, by which time he was really huge (front paw tracks were almost 17 cm long and wide). One reason he liked that road so much was that in summer it was often covered with frogs, and he enjoyed catching and eating them.

    2. Kuril Islands, July 1988: I spotted a North Pacific right whale in the harbor of a small town, and swam out to get a better look. The whale unexpectedly surfaced directly where I was, and I ended up riding on its back for about a minute.

    3. Northern Russia, January 1989. There was more snow than usual that year, so when I visited Pinega Nature Reserve near Arkhangelsk I found that many animals were forced to use human roads and trails. One day I walked a trail between two villages and a pack of wolves followed me for a few kilometers. They were not aggressive, but the snow was so deep that neither I nor them could go anywhere from that trail. They would stop if I looked back, but got within 3 m a few times.

    4. Israel, May 1993: I managed to stay in Ein Gedi Canyon after hours, and met one of Israel’s last leopards. There was nothing particularly unusual about that encounter, but the image was so beautiful, it’s forever etched into my memory: an almost-white leopard standing on top of a waterfall in that majestic canyon.

    5. Xinjiang, July 1993. I was hitchhiking the western road into Tibet; there were no rides for many days and I ended up walking much of it, feeding opportunistically. At one high pass there was a blizzard and I walked straight into a snow leopard feasting on a blue sheep. The cat left, so I cut off one leg and ate it myself as soon as I walked out of the blizzard.

    6. Peru, August 1995. I was volunteering at Manu National Park and found that a great way to see wildlife was to quietly float neck-deep down Rio Manu. On my last day there I decided to float for a couple hours. It happened to be the first day of the rainy season; the boat that was supposed to pick me up broke down and I ended up floating from before sunrise until night. The rain apparently caused a lot of animal movement, and I saw a ridiculous number of animals at very close range, including a few jaguars and a puma.

    7. Nepal, May 1997. I sneaked at night into Chitwan National Park and spent a few hours sitting on a large branch above a dirt road leading to the river. Many animals walked underneath me that night, but the best one was a huge rhinoceros – I had to pull up my feet to avoid touching it. I felt like Mowgli.

    8. USA, August 1997. I met a particularly tame sea otter on the coast of California; she spent two hours playing with me and would leave her small cub in my kayak while diving for urchins. It was so much fun that I left my car with the headlights on, and had to spend another two hours trying to flag down someone with jumper cables.

    9. Sarawak, October 2002. Ran into a bay cat on a night of heavy rain in Gunung Mulu NP. The shortest encounter on this list – less than half a minute.

    10. Pakistan, October 2004. I spent a long time trying to find woolly flying squirrels in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and finally found them one night. It was a truly magical experience: old-growth fir forest, lots of falling snow, and the sounds of avalanches on the slopes of nearby Nanga Parbat peak. Being the first naturalist to see these animals in the wild was also great.

    11. Kenya, July 2005. I was driving in Masai Mara and ran into two cheetahs that had just killed a wildebeest. I spent many hours parked there, watching them; as the sun set and it got colder, they took turns lying on the warm hood of my car.

    12. Zambia, September 2008. We were driving in South Luangwa NP and a pride of lions killed a buffalo literally in front of our truck. It was a gory scene because the male was young and inexperienced, so it took the pride more than half an hour to finish off the poor buffalo. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to watch this.

    13. Vietnam, July 2011. I participated in an expedition to Quang Nam Saola Reserve; my job was to prove that there were still saolas there. I didn’t get to see any, but found a fresh saola track, the first one ever photographed. My best mammalwatching experience that didn’t involve actually seeing the mammal.

    14. Saint Lucia, January 2017. Being able to snorkel with sperm whales was a nice surprise; at one point I had to gently turn away a small calf to prevent it from bumping into me. To think about it, playing with a gray whale calf in Baja California’s Laguna San Ignacio in March 2003 was also great.

    15. CAR, February 2017. Got to observe a Cameroon scalytail for a while near Sangha Lodge. At the time I thought I was the first naturalist to see it in the wild; turned out I wasn’t, but it was the first prolonged observation. That whole trip was a delightful week of almost non-stop mammalwatching fun.

  • Antee

    I´ll keep it short.

    The best mammalwatching experience for me is spotlighting in Yolyn am gorge in Gobi gurvan saikhan mountains outside Dalanzadgad in Mongolia.

    During a magical hour I saw: 1 Snowleopard , 2 Pallas cat , 1 Steppe polecat.

    Another Steppe polecat and a Red fox also said “hello” but this was slightly outside this magical hour 🙂

    It took a while to fall asleep this night.

    • Jon Hall

      I had one of my best ever nights spotlighting in Yolyn Am too, trading your Snow leopard for a Marbled Polecat. Its a really fabulous place for nocturnal carnivores.

  • Ralf Bürglin

    I see others find it hard to stick to “100 words or less”. So do I …

    My favourite mammal watching experience was, when I
    brushed my teeth after a diner with a Spirit Bear in the temperate rainforest of British Columbia, Canada. I had noodles, the bear was munching salmon, lying flat on his belly, 20 meters away from me. I knew I could be relaxed after I had met this particular bear on many occations the days before.
    I was done with my diner first, so I walked the few meters to one of the rocks at the edge of the water to clean my teeth. While I could still hear the bear crashing bones, I noticed something dark in the water 30 meters infront of me. A Grey Whale emerged to the surface and out of the water displaying its body and eventually even the fluke.
    After having spent my fourth summer along the Pacific Northwest coast and having in mind that this would be my last before going back to Germany, I instantly knew: This was the wildlife watching moment of all moments.

  • heavenlyjane

    Back in 1981-82, I lived on Barro Colorado Island, Panama for a year. For me it was a gap year between undergrad and grad school. I worked as a research assistant on various projects. Many of you know it is a biological reserve run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. This place had had hunting since the early years of 20th century so animals were more inclined to show themselves.

    It was a magical year, where I got to see nearly every animal native to the island.

  • Jon Hall

    Here are the first three that I can think of and they are all still crystal clear in my mind.

    1. June 2006. Sitting on a deckchair on top of the sea ice on Baffin Island, reading a book at 11p.m. when an Inuit guide walks over and asks “Wanna go see a bear?”. We jump on his snowmobile and streak across the ice under the midnight sun for a few miles until I am 30 metres away from my first Polar Bear.

    2. October 2005. After three days slogging up and down the forests of the Qinling Mountains I thought I would never see a Giant Panda. But then I was painfully close .. crawling along a trail, picking sticks out of the way of my hands and knees while an animal was just a few feet away … but always hidden. And then we lost it. Disaster. But the two guides hatched a plan. And after climbing down a hill and waiting anxiously, I was sprinting through a clearing to get a five second look at a Giant Panda. I suspect I was one of the first westerners to see one here.

    3. Feb 2017. Hearing my kids shout-whisper “Its a Lynx, look its a Lynx!” as one wandered down the trail towards our staked-out car in Minnesota this year. I love sharing this stuff with them and seeing how excited they get when we see something special.

  • Don Roberson

    As one whose spent lots more time birding than mammal-watching, these don’t really compare but were very special:

    Numbat — a story very like Jon’s — parts of 3 days driving for hours along roads that were supposed to be good and then, on the final drive on the final day, a Numbat runs across the road and stops, and we get video and photos from the car

    ETP cetaceans — 4 months at sea as a bird observer on a NOAA tuna-porpoise research cruise in fall 1989, chasing down almost every possible eastern tropical Pacific cetacean as the mammal-watchers were required to do for i.d. photos/sketches [alas, long before digital cameras], including nice views of what was then called “Mesoplodon A,” years before it was described as M. peruvianus [Pygmy Beaked Whale]

    Lowland Gorilla (non-habituated) — on a birding trip in La Lope, Gabon, we heard an immense racket in the forest and a local guide whispered it was a gorilla. The South African bird tour guide and rest of the tour wanted nothing to do with it, but we asked the local ranger if he’d take just Rita and me, and one other, to look for it. We got very close when the big male began classic gorilla chest-thumping and tearing out vegetation in a dense thicket really close to us. Local guide responded with soft humming and we just stood still as the big male allowed his group to get away (so the ranger told us later). The gorilla was mostly hidden but the loud chest-thumping resounds in my head through today. For some reason we were not afraid; just in awe.

    • Jon Hall

      Don, I had a similar numbat experience, made worse when by (now ex) wife saw one and I didn’t … Probably about then that I began to think about divorce! We got one eventually. Very jealous of your beaked whale.

  • Eran Tomer

    Hello all,

    I can’t compete with the above stories – still gawking at Vladimir Dinets’ accounts – but here are some memorable mammal stories. The first three are a little detailed but get *me* talking about animals / nature and this is what happens. Sorry.

    1. North Carolina / Tennessee, 2001: I was nature-hiking in a wilderness area on the fringes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In an old, dense part of the forest I suddenly noticed a movement at close quarters. An animal… a bear ! (That is, American Black Bear). I froze, thrilled but concerned – too close for comfort and I had no defenses.

    The bear was digging energetically under a log, unaware of my presence. I kept watching quietly but eventually it straightened up and saw me. Now it loomed larger and those fuzzy ears stuck out prominently. It tilted its head from side to side several times, as if assessing me. I looked away so as not to appear threatening and prepared to `puff up’ and shout should it display aggression. But the bear returned to digging, periodically looking up at me as if saying, “Still there ?”. I raised the binocular s-l-o-w-l-y and got super-detailed views given the short distance. It was incredible to see those huge, powerful muscles contracting forcefully under the fur with each excavation.

    For long minutes I kept watching the bear foraging just a few yards away. My closest-ever view of this beast, and in a particularly wild forest to boot.

    Eventually I turned to go. Though I moved slowly, the bear stopped digging and turned around. One more step and it vanished into the dense vegetation in a blink of an eye. And then – I noticed a second bear ! This was a younger one, walking slowly. I raised the binocular again but my arm brushed against the topographic map I was holding. At this slight rustle the bear froze, one paw in mid-air. Then it bolted away. An experience to remember, and a lesson as to how stealthy these large animals can be.

    2. North Carolina, 2009. Speaking of which – this time I was nature-hiking in an impressive, imposing, old-growth forest when a nearby noise caught my attention. I saw something moving on the trunk of a massive tree but couldn’t quite tell what. And then – holy chickens ! – a huge bear’s head popped up from behind the trunk and looked at me. Then it extruded its tongue – thin, rectangular and comically long – and licked its face repeatedly. It had evidently raided a wild bee hive. Then it continued down the tree, stopped to view me and moved to the other side of the trunk. This was just a short distance away though not as close as the previous bear.

    This was a hefty, old beast evidenced by the uncommonly large size and bald areas around the ears and eyes. I stood quietly waiting for it to make the next move. But it stayed put, which was a worrying sign – bears in this region normally retreat from people unless watching cubs, or interested in humans’ food, or rarely – in a human as food.

    The bear continued sitting behind the tree, glancing at me periodically over several minutes, and then started huffing loudly and persistently. It was clearly distressed by my presence but didn’t intend to retreat. I got the message; arguing with large bears is never a good idea and in mountain wilderness, a bear is always right. The problem was that in order to continue up the path I would have had to pass closer to the already-agitated bear. I decided to proceed slowly and backtrack if it displayed any aggression. And so I did, and thankfully Old Teddy just watched me but didn’t move. Then came a descent into a particularly wild, scenic gorge in the primeval forest. An unforgettable hike.

    3. North Carolina, 2008: to round up the Southern Appalachian sightings. This time I (re-) explored a large, lonely wilderness area in the mountains. I was making my way up a trail when I heard footsteps ahead and stopped in my tracks. Given the paucity of humans in those parts I surmised these were deer.

    Soon movement appeared behind the bend and – holy ham ! Four boars came walking towards me: two large, black adults and two butterscotch-colored, little piggie-wiggies. The Southern mountains harbor Wild Boar, feral hogs and hybrids thereof. These were evidently hybrids; the color & shape precluded pure boars but the ears and tails were distinctly boar-like.

    One adult stopped to root with the piggies while the other adult continued right toward me. One big, scary, pitch-black beast, and with offspring to defend. Didn’t have bear spray and no time to retrieve the ear-piercing emergency whistle. I stood still and prepared to strike hard with one of my sharp-tipped, sturdy metal trekking poles.

    Suddenly the pig saw me, froze and tensed up. I also tensed and prepared for assault. It uttered a loud, aggressive-sounding, guttural snort. The other boars started in alarm. The second adult stared at me with a large leaf dangling foolishly from its mouth. And suddenly they all bolted – THANKFULLY away from me. Another moment and their footsteps faded.

    I walked over to where they had been and looked at the area. The slope was quite steep, covered with dense forest and thickets almost impenetrable to humans. Yet the large boars ran through it swiftly, without any problems. I gained a deep appreciation of their sheer strength.

    4. SE Georgia, 1999: On another field trip, I was crawl-driving a road in the Okefenokee Swamp, southeast Georgia. Very early morning, thick mist covering the pine-palmetto woods and rich wetlands. The atmosphere was unearthly. All silent, all alone in the midst of the foggy expanse.

    Suddenly a big, wet River Otter emerged from the swamp and stopped right in front of the car. I braked at once and watched it, a mere few feet away. I had never seen an otter that closely. It was impressively large.

    I thought the beastie would then escape but it sat and stared at me, open mouth revealing the small, quasi-vampirical canines. Then it sneezed, long whiskers quivering comically. And then it started rolling playfully on the ground and performing all sorts of antics, right in front of my nose. Eventually it stopped, sneezed again and returned to the swamp. What a rare thrill in such a surreal setting.

    5. N. Atlanta, Georgia, 2005: during an early morning nature walk I heard a rustle in a vast thicket. Something was approaching. I crouched down and waited for the creature to appear, anticipating the common suspects: either Virginia Opossum or a Common Raccoon.

    But instead – HOOO-LEEE – three little puppies emerged from the vegetation. However, they weren’t dogs; rather, they appeared very distinctly lupine. As I confirmed later – Coyote pups ! As cute and fluffy as can be. I watched the lil’ Yotees for several minutes as they played and explored around, then vanished back into the thicket. Unforgettable encounter.

    6. Ma’agan Mikhael, Israel, 1985: traveled there to participate in a field program organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. It included field trips and lectures, interspersed with breaks. Of course, *this* naturalist had no intention of resting. I spent every moment exploring around.

    That beautiful area featured a great variety of habitats, including freshwater fish ponds thick with vegetation and wildlife. These had a resident Egyptian Mongoose (or perhaps mongooses / mongeese). I soon discovered that it traveled down a certain path regularly and started looking out for it. Almost daily I’d stand quietly by the reeds and the mongoose would show up, trot towards me, then break aside into the thickets. Another indelible experience.

    Honorary mentions:

    1986, Vancouver, Canada – seeing, all too briefly, a Minke Whale surfacing.

    1987, Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming – close observations of Yellow-bellied Marmot, American Pika, Elk and American Bison (among others) in such a scenic landscape.

    1987 & 1989, San Diego, California: memorable observations of Gray Whales.

    1990, Covington, Georgia – seeing a White-tailed Deer stag by moonlight at a field, a moving experience.

    c. 1996, Atlanta, Georgia – on a nature hike, a Muskrat foraged at my feet for some time; quite an experience.

    2000, Atlanta, Georgia – a large American Beaver foraged almost within hand reach for several minutes at a small lake. Never seen a beaver so closely, scaly racket-tail and all.

    All right, must stop somewhere.

    Best regards,

    – Eran Tomer
    Atlanta, Georgia, USA

  • Samuel Marlin

    I’m really impressed by all the amazing experiences mentioned above and I must say that I’m jealous about some of them.

    I haven’t been into mammal watching for many years so I don’t have as many experiences to share as others but to me, my best mammal watching experience is when my wife and I travelled all over the globe to visit the Tonga Islands during summer 2015 to observe and swim with humpback whales. This was great: nice weather, calm and warm seas and after a few hours spent looking for whales roaming and breeching around our small boat in which we had the luxury to be the only 2 guests on board, we jumped into the water and had the chance to swim with a mother and calf for about 20 minutes. We could stay close to them that long because we were alone, the mother was resting and the calf was gently playing around. At some point, he even came towards us to check what were the 2 little strange mammals at the sea surface 🙂 Everything was quiet and full of emotion. I will never forget this moment!!

    My second best experience was in Ladakh during February 2016 where we spent 10 days in a camp near Leh to look for snow leopards. One day after a long day hiking and scanning the mountains and valleys in search of the “white ghost” with no luck we came back to camp exhausted. It was late afternoon starting to get dark and even snowing. After packing our stuff and storing our camera gears in our tent, we all went to the dinner tent for a well-deserved hot tea (and whiskey :)) when after some time, one of our guide came and told us: “there is a leopard out there”. We all rushed outside the tent and indeed, a magnificent leopard was staring at us, only about 50 meters away from us. OMG!! I will remember for a long time his deep blue eyes with the snow falling down in front of his face and covering his thick fur. I loved that moment…but I was so frustrated about missing a great photo opportunity since by the time I came to my tent, found and mounted my camera, I only had time to take a lousy portrait before the leopard walked by and disappeared in the dark…

  • mattinidaho

    It is difficult to choose with so many great memories. I keep coming back to seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Seeing all those animals stretched out to the horizon? Awe is an overused word, but that’s what I felt. Awe. The wildebeest and zebras, the attendant lions and hyenas and cheetahs, the vultures, so much going on. Mixed in with the happiness was a bit of sadness — at one point, this was what the whole world would have been like, abundant wildlife everywhere.

    The next day, we were able to hike with the great herds near Ndutu, which was also magical. I just loved everything in the Serengeti, especially getting off the beaten path there.

    A related memory, but ten years later, was in Tarangire National Park (underrated in my opinion). I was with my same guide as from 10 years before. I asked him about looking for lesser kudu, and we took off on a drive through a corner of the park with no visitors. We literally saw no one all day, and had sightings of lions, elephants, etc to ourselves. The roads were bad and the tstetse flies worse, but I just loved the landscape and felt so incredibly fortunate to just be there, searching for cool wildlife. It doesn’t really translate. Just one of those days that I felt almost deliriously happy.

    We have taken several younger relatives to Yellowstone for a high school graduation present. Every one of those trips has been memorable. I remember one where we took one of Jen’s younger cousins who really wanted to see bears and wolves. I tried to downplay it as you never know how conditions will be. On our first evening, we took a drive on some US Forest Service roads outside of Grand Teton, as I thought they looked like good moose habitat. We came around a corner and there stood a grizzly, digging up ground squirrels, not 50 meters away. It went about its business. Later in that trip we had two wolves circle our car in the full moon. Both were great sightings but even better was seeing our young relative’s reaction.

    Finally, just this year, watching my toddler watch coatis. Pure joy.

  • Mattia from Italy

    Hi folks!

    I am Mattia from northern Italy (Italian Alps). I’ve posted a few trip reports thanks to the Great Jon, but this is my first direct post. Sorry for my bad English!

    My best 7 mammalwatching moments are:

    1. To see long and very well 3 MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEALS in Desertas Islands near Madera (September 2006), a male and a female courting and a young playing. The young remained most time just below our boat and gave impressive views even underwater. AMAZING!

    2. A family of MOUNTAIN GORILLAS in Rwanda (September 2014), with the small and furry young Gorillas playing and rolling together, and than playing with their huge silverback father, climbing over his back. 😀

    3. A male and a female TIGER courting for ten long days in Tadoba (April 2017), letting them to be watched for hours and hours with very close encounters. At the end they finally mated.

    4. A mother CHEETAH in Serengeti (February 2011) teaching to her 3 cubs how to hunt.

    5. To watch from distance a rendez-vous site where a pack of 12 WOLVES congregate in northern Spain (August 2013), and the behaviour of every different member of the pack.

    6. A male JAGUAR hunting an Anaconda in Pantanal (August 2012).

    7. During a drive in the Italian Alps (July 2000), a BROWN BEAR crossed the road and walked to a beehive, with subsequent dinner.

    Hoping to have others in the next years!


    • Mattia from Italy

      Completing the top 10:

      8. Hiking on foot in Laikipia, Kenya (October 2016), to sit along a trail and see a pack of AFRICAN WILD DOGS trotting less than a meter from me.

      9. POLAR BEARS on the pack ice in Svalbard Islands (June 2008), much better than the observation of Polar bears on land.

      10. Not mammals, but the majestic flight of ROYAL and WANDERING ALBATROSSES on the sea following our ship, south of New Zealand travelling to Macquarie Island (December 2009), is absolute fabolous.

  • Michael

    Spontaneously, the following come to mind:
    1) Chancing upon a sleeping tree of Squirrel Monkeys at night and the poor things got so scared that they jumped out of the tree: about 200 monkeys rained down (Peru,1982)
    2) A pod of Orcas diving right under our (rather small) boat (Peru, 1986)
    3) My first bat-catching experience: we got 16 individuals of 13 species in one net in one hour (Ecuador, 1991)
    4) Playing Tchaikovsky via underwater-loudspeaker to a Southern Right Whale. The whale approached the boat and just lay there for about an hour at arm’s length (Valdes, Argentina, 1991)
    5) The dawn chorus of Bornean Gibbons in Danum Valley (Borneo, 1999)
    5) The hour spent with the Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable (Uganda, 2014)

  • Charles Foley

    Every mammal sighting brings me some level of joy (or sometimes just relief if I’ve traveled particularly far to find a species), so its hard to say which my highlights have been. Here are a few though:

    Aardvark: When I was doing my PhD in Tarangire National Park, I would often drive at night. The one animal I always looked for was an Aardvark, but I never had any luck. It got to the point where every time I got in the car for a night drive I’d start my mantra ‘lets go looking for Aardvarks’, and every time I’d come up empty handed. One day I had to drive up to Laikipia in Kenya to meet some of my fellow graduate students who were doing a field course there. They were all a bit frazzled from the heat and terrible food, so when I turned up with a vehicle full of beer I was heralded like some sort of religious vision. That evening I took the roof off my vehicle, packed the 10 students or so in the back of the car, and went off for a night drive. As we took off from camp I said my usual mantra ‘lets go look for Aardvarks’, drove around the corner, and there, standing in the middle of the road, was a huge male Aardvark. It looked at us for a second and then went running off into the bushes. Forgetting I had a car-load of people standing in the back, I went racing after it, whipping through the thorn bushes and bouncing over rocks. Eventually the squeals and cries from the back of the car brought me back to reality, and I reluctantly abandoned the chase. To this day I still use the same mantra every time I go out for a night drive in Africa….

    Goeldi’s monkey: When I was doing my undergraduate degree, some friends and I went on a trip to the Pando region of northern Bolivia to assess the status of Goeldi’s monkey in the area. It took us several days to get to the field site which was very isolated, and then we would stay at the camp of a local rubber tapper (usually just one or two families living in the middle of nowhere) for a week or so, while we surveyed the area, and then moved on. We had been in the area for several weeks and seen lots of primates, but no Goeldi’s, and were beginning to get a bit worried about whether we would find them or not. The rubber tappers assured us they were there, but said they were difficult to find. One afternoon a colleague and I were doing a walking survey in the forest when I heard a rustle sound coming from a bush some 20 yards away. I got my binoculars on the bush and saw a jet-black monkey staring back at me with a fruit it its mouth. It then jumped away and melted into the undergrowth. The moment only lasted about a second, and we later saw many more Goeldi’s, including one great sighting of a whole family feeding in a bush, but that was my most memorable viewing.

    Leopard: In our camp in Tarangire we get lots of wild animals passing through, as we don’t have a fence around the area. For a while we had a very tame female leopard that would come almost every night to drink at the birdbath. Eventually she became so relaxed that she would drink from the birdbath while we were having dinner some 15 feet away. I always felt a huge thrill at the privilege of being able to be so close to such a magnificent animal.

  • Curtis Hart

    I guess I’m a little late in this, but here are a few of my more memorable sightings.

    Tree Pangolins are always great to see. My first view and last were the best. The first exploded out of the butresses of a huge tree right at my feet. I was in awe at finding my first pangolin. My last panagolin was last November on my first primate census of the 2016-2017 field season on Bioko. It was lightly raining, so it never took notice of us. We were able to watch it forage for 10 minutes.

    Spending 10 months in total on Bioko has given me a ton of incredible primate experiences. The most memorable was coming down the Tope Tomo river and encountering a largeth group of Drills. I guess being chest deep in water broke up our profile and they were interested in us instead of being scared. The young ones seemed to be daring each other to see who could run the farthest out on a branch to get close to us. I lasted about a half hour, and they were one of species of primates seen on that walk.

    I am the person that Vladimir Dinets mentioned that had encountered a Cameroon Scaly-tail. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was, I was just happy to be seeing a new mammal that late in the field season. The real excitement came over a year later when I found out how significant it was.

    First African Wild Dog in Harenna Forest, Ethiopia.

    I started out as a general backpacker before I traveled specifically for wildlife. My first time renting a car and driver on my own and having a mandatory guide was for Indira Ghandi NP in the Western Ghats. I had an extremely lucky trip, seeing a pair of Sloth Bears on the way in, my first Gaur, Chital, and Nilgiri Langur. I had a great experience with my primary target, Lion-tailed Macaque, and even finished with 8 Dhole attacking a buck Sambar about 2 km before the exit. I remember thinking that this must be how Jon Hall’s trips are.

    Watching 5 Killer Whales kill and eat a juvenile Elephant Seal.

    Getting to watch a den of at least 11 Long-tailed Weasels in Glacier NP.

    Sitting at the blind at Nantu Forest watching Babirusa. An Anoa would have been nice though.

  • jurekmammalwatching

    My favorite experiences would be probably some spotlighting, because seeing everything is unpredictable and surprise, mammals are often ridiculously close and behave in completely unexpected ways.
    A leopard cat which raised on hind legs like a meerkat to look at me. A fox feeding on a steep hill few meters away at eye level. Seeing palm civets and african civets feeding next to each other at a camp kitchen in Uganda, and realizing that there was a third species – a large-spotted genet hidden in a tangle of lianas between them, sandwiched between two larger predators and keeping very still.
    Otherwise, maybe long observation of a Giant Panda, which fed behind farmer’s house in Foping. Or a huge male polar bear which scared me by walking out of the dense forest where I just walked on foot at Churchill.
    I have seen some genuinely rare species, and big boys like mountain gorillas, orangutans, tigers, jaguars etcetera. However guided excursions are somehow never the same.

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