Whatever the setting it is important to remember that wild animals are, well, wild. Any experience where you are allowed to interact with a wild animal directly should set off alarm bells straight away. Predators like lions will consider you as food, so touching, walking with or getting up close to a predator normally indicates that animals are being drugged for your entertainment. And if you think interacting with a baby predator like a cheetah might be an exception to the rule, you would be wrong. Young animals that are exposed to human interaction with people other than those trained to rehabilitate them are unlikely to be successfully reintroduced to the wild.
We do however encourage people to consider ethical encounters, and it’s reasonably easy to spot the real deal. You’ll recognise these by the simple fact that animals can roam free within a protected habitat similar to what they would have in nature, and that they are not bated in some way as is the case with shark cage diving. Of course, the massive array of nature reserves to be found all over Southern Africa are ideal for seeing animals in their natural habitat, but there are a few interesting options if you are looking for a real up-close encounter.
Would you enjoy having breakfast with a Giraffe? Then the enchanting Giraffe Manor offers the ultimate in ethical up-close animal experiences. This imposing building is operated as a boutique hotel by The Safari Collection and is set on 12 acres within the indigenous forest in the Langata suburb of Nairobi. This iconic building harks back to the 1930 when the world's film stars and pre-jet set adventurers flocked to the East African country for safari. With its stately façade, elegant interior, verdant green gardens, sunny terraces and delightful courtyards, guests often remark that it’s like walking into the film Out of Africa. Of course, the most intriguing element of the Manor is it herds of Giraffe who are known to drop in on the manor throughout the day.
Watching the great spectacles of nature unfold right in front of you is one of the best ways to go for those looking for an up-close experience. Kosi Baby in South Africa's KwaZulu Natal province remains an unspoilt patch of nature that delivers animal encounters in droves. One of the cutest you can hope to witness here is watching baby turtles hatch and make a run for the ocean. While a sighting of the hatching can never be fully guaranteed, if you’re in the right place at the right time, watching baby sea turtles emerge from their eggs and escape to the ocean can be a fantastic encounter.
The colony of penguins at Boulders Beach are almost as famous as Cape Town where they hail from. This protected colony can be accessed via an elevated walkway which meanders through the penguin breeding grounds ending on a beachside viewing deck which overlooks their playground. Of course, the ocean offers a much more exciting approach and view, and you have a choice of using either paddle boards or kayaks to paddle your way into the bay where penguins will merrily swim past you in close range. Expect to see some playful Cape Fur Seals along the way and even a bit of whale spotting in winter and spring. Check out operators like Kayak Cape Town if you want to know more.
Lukewarm, crystal clear water, unspoiled beaches and beautiful sub-tropical scenery and weather, what more could you possibly want from a visit to the laidback Tofu area in Mozambique? How about swimming with whale sharks? Tofu offers one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks as the big supply of plankton means that this area has one of the highest concentrations of this species in the world.