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Exotic wildlife

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Some famous and popular animal species can only be seen or interacted with in a few places. This page describes where you can (legally) find such species, in captivity and in the wild.



A zoo is a facility where animals are held in more or less artificial enclosures. The level of animal ethics vary a lot between zoos.

A safari park is a large enclosure where animals roam freely, and visitors enter by car or other vehicles.

A game reserve or nature reserve is an open-land area for protection of wild animals, with a leave-no-trace mandate. Animals live naturally, and the park crew usually only interfere with them for research, conservation, or population control.


Hugging a panda in Dujiangyan

Giant pandas[edit]

Giant pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, only live in the wild in China.

Due to the extremely small number of pandas alive, it is very unlikely to see one in the wild. There are only a few tours that even attempt to find them.

Zoos throughout China have pandas on display. Outside China, only a limited number of zoos have pandas, and frequently only for a limited time (they are "rented" from China and often must be returned after a certain number of years). See List of giant pandas in zoos for a list (possibly incomplete).

  • Dujiangyan Panda Base. The only place (as of 2017) where you can come closer to a panda than zoo-distance. You can get your picture taken sitting on a bench hugging a panda. There is also a "panda keeper" activity where you can act as a zookeeper for a day behind the scenes.


Gorillas are divided into two species: eastern (Gorilla beringei) and western (Gorilla gorilla). Both are endangered, and both are only found (in the wild) in poor African countries.

The most practical way of seeing gorillas in the wild is through organized tours in Rwanda or Uganda. To see western gorillas, the Republic of the Congo appears to be the best option. Outside of these organized tours/treks, not only do you have to get very lucky to see a gorilla, but you may have to deal with dangers both natural and human.

See the following overview of tour options.

Gorillas can be found in zoos throughout the world.


These large aquatic creatures live in tropical waters in several places worldwide.

One prime location to see manatees is in Florida, in places like Weeki Wachee Springs, where the water is very clear and you can go kayaking with manatees.


All species of penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

  • Antarctica. The best place to see penguins, but also remote and expensive.
  • Tierra del Fuego. This region is part of Argentina and Chile, at the southern tip of South America. There are penguin colonies within 30 km of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas, as well as other locations that are further or require ferries to reach. See this site for a full list.
  • Falkland Islands.
  • Phillip Island, Australia. Here you can see dozens of little fairy penguins waddle up from the sea to their nests at sunset. Within two hours' drive of Melbourne.
  • Penguin Island, Rockingham, Australia. Home to a colony of little penguins, though few wild penguins are visible during the day. Located close to Perth.
  • New Zealand. Penguins can be seen in places like Oamaru and Akaroa.
  • South Africa. Home to African penguins. They can be seen at Boulders Beach, and at Betty's Bay in Overberg. Both are within a 90-minute drive of Cape Town.
  • Galapagos Islands. The archipelago is the home of the endemic Galapagos penguin and is the northernmost habitat of any penguin species. Indeed, a small part of the Isabela Island, one of the islands on which the penguins thrive, extends across the Equator, making this the only place in the Northern Hemisphere with a wild penguin population.

Penguins can be found in zoos and aquariums throughout the world.

Polar bears[edit]

Polar bears, Ursus maritimus, live in and around the Arctic Ocean, near the North Pole. During winter, they can be found on and under the rim of the Arctic ice cap, hunting ringed seals in the water. During summer, part of the ice melts, and they retreat to land for a lean season.

This huge habitat area contains only about 30,000 bears. Luckily, they tend to be concentrated in a few coastal areas where it is possible to see them, particularly in the summer and fall.

  • Churchill. Known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World". Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is a small village on the coast of Hudson's Bay, a branch of the Arctic Ocean. Every fall, Churchill hosts the world's largest concentration of polar bears, as the bears wait for the bay to freeze over. This has made Churchill a major tourist destination, as tourists board "tundra buggies" (large elevated armored buses) to go out and see the bears face to face.
  • Wrangel Island. The world's largest concentration of polar bear maternity dens. Locate off the northeast coast of Siberia, and very hard to get to.

In captivity, polar bears can be seen in zoos worldwide.

A quokka


Quokkas, Setonix brachyurus, are a marsupial that looks like a small, chubby kangaroo with a cute face. In the 2010s they have become known online as the "world's happiest animal" due to their cute, cheerful appearance.

Quokkas are only found in the wild in Western Australia, particularly Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth city. At Rottnest Island they are very common and willing to approach humans, and "quokka selfies" are an online craze. Keep in mind, though, that it's forbidden by law to actually touch a quokka.

In captivity, quokkas can be found at a number of zoos throughout Australia. However, there are few if any zoos outside Australia where they can be seen.

Sea turtles[edit]


Shark cage diving

Large sharks such as great whites and hammerheads can be found in oceans worldwide, except in the polar regions. However, they are low in numbers. They tend to concentrate in certain coastal regions where prey is easy to find.

"Shark dives" are popular in shark concentration spots worldwide. If the sharks are dangerous like great whites, you'll see them from inside a metal cage ("cage diving") to stay safe. For most other species, no cage is needed.

  • Gansbaai. Billed as the "Great White Shark Capital of the World". Arguably the world's highest concentration of great whites is located here, and cage diving is very popular here. Located in South Africa near Cape Town.
  • Guadalupe Island. Off the coast of Baja California. Another destination for great white cage diving.
  • Cocos Island National Park. Cage divers here can see hammerhead sharks and many other species, but not great whites.
  • Galapagos Islands. Cage divers can see hammerhead sharks and many other species.
  • Bahamas. You can see many tiger sharks at "Tiger Beach" off the coast of Grand Bahama, and hammerhead sharks off Bimini.
  • New England. Off the coast of New England, near New York City and Boston, species like the mako and blue sharks can be seen. Despite the northern latitude, waters are relatively warm here due to the Gulf Stream. Tours depart from Montauk, Cape Cod, and other locations.
  • Neptune Islands. A popular cage diving location where it is possible to see great whites. Located off the cost of Port Lincoln, South Australia.
  • Osprey Reef. Part of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Various sharks can be seen here, but not great whites.
  • Farallon Islands. Off the coast of San Francisco. Great white sharks often visit here, and "cage diving" is possible. However, many visitors report not seeing any sharks, due to low underwater visibility, and because the operators are not allowed to "chum" (use bloody fish as shark bait).

Generally, large sharks do not do well in captivity. It appears that no great white sharks or hammerhead sharks can be viewed in captivity. However, smaller sharks can be seen in some aquariums, as well as the whale shark.


See also: Whale watching
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