PHOTO: Gorilla encounters give you a true sense of the majestic nature of these creatures. (Photo by David Cogswell)
Endangered Species Day is May 20 and it's an opportunity for people to learn about how important it is to protect endangered animals and the actions that we can take to help keep them safe. When we travel to exotic locations, we often run into opportunities to see these animals in close proximity - but we need to remember to ensure that, when interacting with any wildlife, we are doing it humanely.
Here's where to find and interact with some of the world's most intriguing endangered animals.
The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in China, but as a result of farming and deforestation, the panda's habitat has been fairly diminished. There are currently fewer than 2,000 wild giant pandas in China today but there are around 50 in captivity at the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Base in Chengdu, China.
READ MORE: China Doesn't Mess Around When It Comes to Their 20-Foot Iron Pandas
The institute provides an experience-based tourism program that combines environmental protection with scientific research, increasing visitor awareness about the plight of giant pandas. Visitors can observe pandas in habitats that mimic their natural environment. If you want to come face to face with a giant panda, this is where you need to visit.
The quirky kiwi bird has many strange adaptations and is the national bird of New Zealand. Its populations are also dwindling and, of the five species of the bird, two are vulnerable and one is endangered.
To come face to face with them and see how an organization is actively participating in the rescue of kiwi birds, Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, New Zealand, is one of the best places for an encounter. The organization first became involved in kiwi conservation in 1975 and its kiwi program shows and educates visitors about these unusual creatures that are endangered and protected in the country.
Many people have heard of Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise who passed away in 2012. He was the last of his species and there are just a few species of giant tortoises that remain in the world today.
In the Galapagos Islands, they are highly protected after being hunted nearly to extinction for a variety of reasons but you can still see them in the wild on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and at the Charles Darwin Research Center, also on the island.
Inhabiting the subtropical jungles of Africa, both eastern and western gorillas are on the endangered species list. Threats to their habitats, poaching and bushmeat trade are key factors working against gorilla species - another threat is Ebola. Several hundred gorillas were wiped out in Odzala National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when struck by Ebola in 2004.
READ MORE: Japan Has Monopoly on Ridiculously Good Looking Gorillas
For those who want to see gorillas up close in their natural habitat, trekking is one of the most extraordinary ways to visit these majestic creatures. Anastasia's Africa is one of many tour operators that offer these types of experiences and customizes itineraries for visitors to the region.
The emperor penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all of the penguin species and is endemic to Antarctica. It is also the only penguin species that breeds during the harsh Antarctic winter and travels as much as 75 miles over ice to its breeding grounds.
Emperor penguins are expected to decline in population by nearly half over the next decade as several populations have moved to floating shelf ice rather than sea ice. The birds are currently under consideration for the endangered species list due to increased disease in colonies, habitat destruction and breeding disturbance.
For those who want to see the emperor penguins, an Antarctic cruise is your best bet. There are several companies that offer cruises to the region, from high-end luxury experiences to more rustic expeditions.
Topics From This Article to Explore