Mammalwatching with children

Here’s a chart showing the number of new species I’ve seen every year of my life (the first six years summarized under 1975). For the reference, my first marriage was in 1996-early 1997, second marriage 1998-2001, third marriage 2010-present, first child 2014, second child 2020. 1995 was my first trip to the Neotropics (6 months); 2005 was the first trip to the Afrotropics (4.5 months).

Why am I posting this? I’m sure I’m not the only one here to find that reproductive success has disastrous effect on lifelist fitness. Let’s do something about it!

I have this idea of organizing mammalwatching tours for people with small children. They would allow you to add a few dozen lifers without abandoning your loved ones for weeks at a time or subjecting them to grueling death marches that good mammalwatching trips normally are. They would also allow me to bring my family along, so that I can get some fun for the kids, a few lifers and some guiding fees at the same time. After all, it’s a shame to have the world’s best mammalwatching guide (me) taken out of circulation by family duties just when the popularity of mammalwatching is growing exponentially.

For starters, I’m organizing a tour to Socotra and Oman in late December 2003 (each part one week). I’ll try to keep the price reasonably low. You are welcome to bring any number of kids of any age as long as they are under voice control or on a leash… sorry, I mean, as long as they are your responsibility. If there is enough demand, I can aslo do something in the winter of 2022/23.

What do you think?


  • JanEbr

    C’mon, do you seriously want me to measure the chart pixel by pixel to add the years up? Post the bloody sum already!

  • Vladimir Dinets

    Oh dear, I didn’t expect anyone to be that interested 🙂 It’s 4279, but the list was never intended for competitive purposes so there are a few dozen uncertain IDs etc. On the other hand, my master list has only 5741 extant species since it’s strictly BSC and I don’t recognize many frivolous splits, particularly in primates. Now, can we get back to everybody signing up for my tours, please? 😉

    • JanEbr

      You have been occasionally teasing it for a while, so don’t wonder people are interested 🙂 And the result is indeed absolutely impressive.
      As for the topic at hand, I have been in a relationship for almost 20 years, married for almost 14, but we have no kids and do most nature watching together and she is the more patient one, so I have to say it’s not always a downside!

  • Tao

    I’m kind of interested. I have 3 kids born between 2012 and 2017. But I doubt kids would appreciate the exoticness of Socotra and Oman. The air fare alone will cost a fortune. I think somewhere in Canada or South America is more practical… (I’m based in the US.)

    • Vladimir Dinets

      I’m sure they would; there are gorgeous caves, spectacular rock pools for swimming, dragon tree forests, whale sharks and dugongs to snorkel with, slot canyons to explore, etc. The airfare is not that bad, besides, not everyone is based in North America.
      But you are right, I should plan something in the Americas, too. Right now I have two ideas: a boat trip down the Sea of Cortez, returning by car through Baja, and talking Fiona Reid into running a family-oriented version of her Amazon cruises 🙂

  • Tao

    I would be interested in the Amazon cruise with kids. Seems the least hassle. I also have the picture book of the Barbapapas cruising down the Amazon in their mammal watching adventures.

  • Michael Johnson

    Examining your graph it does seem that lower annual numbers of new species is more associated with your marital status rather than the presence of children as such. In any case, I do think your idea of family-friendly mammal-watching tours is fantastic and I wish you all the best for them. However given I have no children, there is no way I’ll be joining you. 🙂

    As an aside, is there a link to further information on Fiona Reid’s Amazon cruises?

    • Vladimir Dinets

      All tours will be open to people without children as well. I already have one such person signed up for Socotra. As for Fiona’s Amazon tours, I asked her but she hasn’t answered yet.

  • Michael Johnson

    Must admit that Socotra and Oman would be fantastic places to visit.

    My problem is that I only came to this hobby in 2018 . Here in Australia we have been locked away from the rest of the world since March 2020, and while things are slowly changing it is still realistically impossible to travel overseas for tourism. Even within Australia, travel is difficult. For instance there are five Families of Australian marsupial I have not seen, and four of them are only found in parts of the country it is still not feasible for me to visit. Overall I am very itchy to get out there. Given I only have 156 mammals on my lists, and I’m at least a decade older than you, at the moment it is more about quantity rather than quality. Also I am keen to see more Families.

    But heck, keep us informed, who knows?

    • Vladimir Dinets

      I don’t think travel bans will last much longer. They are clearly ineffective in the long term, and even the most stupid and xenophobic politicians are beginning to understand that. For a couple more years we’ll have to deal with quarantines and other restrictions in some countries, but generally travel should become easier, particularly for fully vaccinated people.

  • Vladimir Dinets

    So I asked Fiona and she is generally open to the idea. She also mentioned that her research base in Costa Rica would be a great place for such a trip. We’ll discuss it in more detail in January.

  • Tao

    OK. Keep us posted. And yeah, right now covid is still the biggest uncertainty.

  • Michael

    Well, my experiences are a bit different: my bird and mammal life lists picked up after getting married because we both enjoy it and made many cool trips together. The births of my two daughters dampened the curves a bit for the first 5 years or so, but then they picked up again because we made many cool family trips together and they have been “conditioned” to like mammal watching. We went to western US, Yucatan, Costa Rica, Andalusia, Namibia, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, …, in several cases seeing more than 100 species. My 15 year old daughter now has a list of over 350 species. Now of course they are getting more independent and start to do their own things.
    Anyway, what I have found to be important in our trips with children is to not have too much program. They eventually get saturated, and then they need an afternoon on the beach, or a morning when they can sleep in and just potter around. Staying several nights at a given place also helps a lot. Single-based holidays are much appreciated. Even on round-trips we now strive to spend 2-3 nights at each place. And then preparing them helps a lot. We always made a booklet ourselves with lists and photos (from the internet) of all likely species and a space where they could write location/date. That way, they knew what to expect and got really into the “collecting mode” (oh look, we have seen all 5 species on this page; when can we find white-tailed mongoose?; etc). Lots of work but it really helps.
    A big challenge you will have, Vladimir, is finding dates that fit families with school children; here in Switzerland they are very strict about this. So I doubt that we could join your trips, as cool as they sound. Our next plans are Brazil (Sao Paulo area, Cristalino, Pantanal) which we have already postponed for 2 years due to the nasty little virus, and Uganda, now that everybody is old enough for gorilla-tracking.

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Well, most countries have school breaks in late December (when the Socotra trip is being planned) and in summer. Also, in most countries people don’t mind taking their kids off school for a few days if necessary. Of course, most children would object to missing school and their beloved handwriting classes just to go snorkeling with whales or explore bat caves or chase jaguars or do something equally boring 😉
      I actually did a lot of travel with all my wives, and my 6 year old daughter has been to all continents except Antarctica (working on this one), but generally marriage and children slow you down: you just can’t expect normal people to be as motivated as a truly devoted naturalist. There are exceptions (Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick raised their son in a tent in Ngorongoro) but they are rare.

    • CCoC

      Hi Michael,

      a lot of cool tips from your comment, thanks! I’ll make sure to implement them 🙂

      I’m based in Munich and perhaps schools closure are similar. We also spend quite some time bear watching in Trentino.

      Perhaps you have an email or social profile you like to share? could be nice to stay in touch.


  • Ian Green

    Socotra is a great idea. Bur for many the travel restrictions might put a damper on their enthusiasm. Having said that its a wonderful place for camping and wildlife and especially amazing landscapes. I have organised trips there in the past and am taking two groups next February, both more of a botanical bent. I am keen on mammals myself (Vladimir, we met, years ago at night on Mt Kinabalu…) and also have young (3 years old) and not so young (teenagers) children and could think about this. You might already have contacts there or are working with somebody there, but if you need help on it or want to work together on this you can contact me directly on

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Ian!!! So nice to hear from you! Of course I remember that day on Kinabalu (we saw two species that are all but impossible to see nowadays). The kind of job you had was an eye-opener for me: suddenly academia was no longer the only career possible 🙂
      Yes, I am in contact with someone on Socotra, but it would be good to have a plan B.
      My hope is that a year from now either the governments will be forced to admit that travel restrictions almost never work, or people will be so sick with cabin fever that they’ll have to put up with them.

  • CCoC

    Hi Vladimir,

    its a cool idea and I’d be interested for 2023 and most likely from 24 on. Please keep us posted

  • CarlosBocos

    4279, that is crazy! This means you have seen more than all the Inaturalist users altogether! I think now in Inaturalist we have documented something slightly above 4000 species of mammals. Just wondering, although you have been doing this for longer than anyone, regarding at the number of times you misidentified stuff in recent times, even with photos, do you have doubts about many of your sightings or you are confident about most of them?

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