Swim with pigs, brunch with giraffes, and ... bunnies! 5 wild destinations for animal lovers
Vacations can be a great opportunity to encounter exotic wildlife. But you don’t want to just visit another zoo—you want a destination where you can get up close and personal with some of nature’s cuddlier creatures. Here are five fabulous places to fawn all over the local fauna.
1. Sled Dog Camps, Alaska
The athletic canines that compete in the Iditarod, the annual 1,150-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome, train year-round. On the Ididaride Sled Dog Tour, you can visit the training grounds, go on a dogsled ride and, most importantly, snuggle some fuzzy puppies. You’ll also discover that a hundred energetic Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes can howl louder than you could ever imagine.
2. Tashirojima, Japan
If you’re more of a cat person, head to Tashirojima, a small island off the east coast of Japan, where felines outnumber people. Up until the mid-19th century the islanders raised silkworms, and cats were kept to guard against the mice that preyed on the worms. The silk industry is gone but the friendly cats remain, so you’ll be able to feed, pet, and cuddle to your heart’s content. The island is also home to many cat shrines and monuments. You can even sleep in cat-shaped cottages designed by famous manga artists.
3. Shambala Preserve, Acton, California
Those who like their cats bigger and deadlier will want to explore the Shambala Preserve in southern California. Founded by actress Tippi Hedren in 1983, the 60-acre sanctuary has since rescued more than 235 exotic animals. Hedren was inspired by her experiences filming Roar, a film starring herself and daughter Melanie Griffith and 100-plus wild animals. A limited number of three-hour day tours and sunset tours are available, both of which will get you a good view of the lions and tigers as well as smaller, more obscure wildcats, including a trio of servals and a pair of Asian leopard cats. For a more immersive experience, book an overnight stay. After going on a midnight safari, you’ll sleep in tents bordering the animal compound, which means you’ll have one heck of an alarm clock. (Reservations are required.)
4. Big Major Cay, The Bahamas
You’ve never seen how cute pigs can be until you’ve seen them paddling in clear Caribbean waters. And you can do just that in the Bahamas, where wild pigs live on a small, uninhabited island close to the popular Fowl Cay Resort. No one’s quite sure how they got to their tropical home. According to one local legend, sailors left them there with the intent of coming back to eat them, but never returned for their pork dinner. Competing stories suggest that the pigs survived a shipwreck or, less dramatically, that they were purposely placed there to drum up tourism.
You can arrange a visit to swim with the swine through the Fowl Cay Resort. It might sound ridiculous, but these pigs love to piggie paddle. And they’ll happily greet approaching tourists, because—to our great jealousy—they live off of food that’s brought to them. Talk about hog heaven.
5. Giraffe Manor, Kenya
It’s easy to see giraffes on a safari, but at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya, you’re the attraction for the giraffes. The former private home was purchased by an American conservationist and turned into a breeding sanctuary for the endangered Rothschild’s subspecies in the mid-1970s. It began welcoming guests in 1984 to fund and expand the conservation effort. Interaction is encouraged—windows and even the front door are left open for giraffes to poke their heads in, and you’ll probably find yourself sharing your breakfast and dinner with the gentle giants, although they need to be fed special pellets and not, say, your Eggs Benedict. They also have a warthog named after legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite, so that’s pretty cool.