For some of us, vacations provide a welcome break from pets. Then there are those who use their vacations to connect even more with a variety of animals in the wild. Private tour companies and nonprofits are happy to oblige. Here’s a sampling of immersive experiences now available in North America.
Wild horses in California
The Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary in central coastal California is more than a safe haven for wild horses and burros. It is also dedicated to preserving threatened historic strains. The goal is for these wild horses, some with lineages dating back to the time of early Spanish explorers, to once again be able to live together as family bands in herds. “Even non-horse people find it very powerful when encountering horses living in natural herds and the beauty of it all,” says RTF president Neda DeMayo. “It’s impactful when a herd of wild horses accepts you in their environment, and a few may even come up to say hello.”
Dolphins and whales in California
Dave Anderson has been leading dolphin- and whale-watching trips from Dana Point in Southern California since 1995. He is involved in whale rescue programs (the mammals can become entangled in fishing gear), launched Ocean Awareness Day and has produced a documentary and written a book on the matter. Passengers on Capt. Dave’s two-and-half-hour dolphin- and whale-watching safaris are transported on a catamaran with unique underwater viewing pods. The pods, accessible by stairs, offer up-close, eye-to-eye encounters with groups of as many as 5,000 dolphins and five species of whales. “We have a living, breathing, moving Yosemite off our coast,” Anderson says. “It’s as close as you can get to these animals without getting wet.”
Baby sea turtles in Mexico
Take part in ushering hatchlings from beach to ocean. Destinations in Mexico — including resorts that hold baby turtle release parties, such as Las Brisas Ixtapa, and tour agencies like Cabo Outfitters in Los Cabos — give visitors the rare opportunity to do so. The Sea of Cortez is rich in several endangered turtle species that choose to nest on the beaches, with late August to early December considered turtle release season.
Wolves and foxes in Missouri
The Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka has worked for more than 50 years to restore wolves to their native habitats. The center has helped to boost the endangered Mexican wolf population from just seven wolves in 1971 to over 240 in the wild as of 2023. Several public and private tours are available, the most popular being the “Endangered Species” tour, where visitors can view Mexican wolves, maned wolves, swift foxes and African painted dogs. For an extra-special experience, take part in the “Evening Wolf Howl,” where you can test your howling skills and attempt to get the wolves to howl back.