Tracking animals can often be difficult. I often find myself in envy of bird watchers; they can use bird calls to call in a specific species. Insects can be attracted using special lamps. Tracking mammals, however, can be much more challenging; unless you have physical tracks in soil, scats or other signs.
For example, I asked my guide in Sumatra, 'What are my odds of seeing a tiger?' He responded, 'In 40 years, I've seen two.' That itself shows how difficult it can be to see a specific species.
Here's some of my best mammal sightings throughout my travels.
A very common question is, 'Have you seen a monkey?'
Monkeys are very easy animals to find; they are very social, so they are found in large groups and are very noisy, so tracking them is very easy. They're usually one of the first animals I locate in a rainforest.
However, their lesser-known and rarely-seen relatives are much harder. Bush babies and galagos are more primitive than monkeys and are entirely nocturnal. They move through the forest by jumping huge distances between the trees, and their huge eyes reflect any light from your torch. I've often been surprised to see a pair of huge eyes bouncing through the forest incredibly fast. They sound like a crying baby (hence their common name, bush baby) and are held with great superstition in East Africa. I've only managed to see them a couple of times.
I have a soft spot for ant eaters; they really are such unusual mammals. They have a bottom jaw that's fused to their skull and a long tube-like mandible that houses their wonderfully long sticky tongue. Again, many are nocturnal, so spotting one can be difficult.
I once held up a plane leaving the Pantanal to Rio because on my way to the airport, a giant anteater was crossing the road, and I told my driver to wait while I attempted to photograph it. The airline was not impressed, but they still let me board!
My favourite anteater, however, is also the smallest. The silky anteater would fit into the palm of your hand and found around mangroves in South America. Although not exceptionally rare, to see such a cute creature was quite the treat. Given their 'dopey' demeanour, you'd be forgiven to think they're vulnerable to predators but the claws they have would put most dinosaurs to shame!
Spotting cats in the wild is often high on many wildlife enthusiast's lists; as I mentioned at the start of this blog, they are extremely difficult.
They are generally solitary, and their amazing senses allow them to avoid humans easily. Of the (literal) years I've spent in rainforests, I've found them just a handful of times — lions in Budongo forest, Uganda; Puma in Costa Rica; a Caracal in South Africa; and my favourite, a Leopard in Sri Lanka. Here, I got lucky and had a female and three cubs walk past me.
I shot 200 photos in 5 seconds, and all were blurry except one; thankfully, it was the best one!
I'm currently gearing up for my next wildlife adventure... at the end of November, I will be travelling to India to spend 10 days in a couple of the best tiger reserves in the world! I feel my odds are quite good (the Bengal tiger is more common then the Sumatran), and if successful, it will truly be a bucket list item completed. Watch this space because I'll be writing my experiences in detail.