9 National Parks for Wildlife Lovers
Published 22 June 2016
All over the globe there are hundreds – nay, thousands – of incredible national parks. After all, England has 10, South Africa alone has more than 20, the USA boasts 59, and Australia's park numbers are in excess of 500! But how can you possibly see them all? And which can guarantee the best flora, fauna and animals? Check out these nine national parks for wildlife lovers to help narrow down your list:
Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
Best for spotting… alligators, muskrats, Florida panther, birds
The subtropical Everglades span a staggering 1.5 million acres: forming a vast, underappreciated wetland bursting with things to do and wildlife to see. Choose one of the many boardwalk trails and take a quiet stroll; hop on the tram through the northern Shark Valley; join a boat tour to the labyrinthine Ten Thousand Islands; or board an airboat so you can glide through the nine-foot-tall fields of sawgrass that dominate this world-famous wilderness.
For a glimpse of the ‘gators, head for the southern end of the park, where these prehistoric predators make the most of freshwater swamps and marshes. Sightings are virtually guaranteed – there are more alligators per acre here than anywhere else on the planet. Equally as common in the Everglades are round-tailed muskrats, nocturnal water rats that just love the wet mud. Expect to spot some of the 350+ species of bird too (like the iconic pink flamingo) and, if you’re really lucky, the elusive Florida panther. Critically endangered, there are only 100 of these big cats left in the wild and most of them inhabit the swamplands of the Everglades, as well as the neighbouring Big Cypress National Preserve.
Bardia National Park, Nepal
Best for spotting… Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinos
Together with its smaller neighbour – Banke National Park – Bardia protects one of the largest stretches of tiger habitat in Asia, home to about 40 Bengal tigers. Suffice to say, these majestic mammals are extremely rare, although dedicated trekkers have an 80 percent chance of spotting one, depending on the season. They aren’t the only rarity in the park either: the greater one-horned rhino has been spotted and the species’ numbers are actually steadily on the rise, thanks to strong anti-poaching campaigns.
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Best for spotting… migrating birds, leopards
Binoculars at the ready! The avifauna in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is incredible: 215 different species of bird can be spotted here, six of which are endemic and a large number are migratory. Simply put: it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise. Keep an eye out for painted storks, spoonbills, herons and the Sri Lanka grey hornbill in particular. There are plenty of mammals too, from the Sri Lankan elephant and sloth bear to the wild water buffalo. It’s the Sri Lankan leopard that’s the big draw though: an endangered subspecies, this big cat is incredibly elusive but incredibly beautiful. Yala National Park is the best place to catch sight of one.
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Best for spotting… Baird’s tapir
Corcovado is the national park jewel in Costa Rica’s diverse crown – so much so it’s oft lauded as one of the best wilderness areas in South America. It boasts swamps, cloud forest, freshwater lakes, snaking mangroves and many more vegetation types, which is why it’s no surprise it has attracted such an abundance of wildlife. Perhaps the quirkiest and rarest of all is the Baird’s tapir: a distinctive brown mammal with cream coloured markings on its face and neck, a small stubby tail and a flexible proboscis. They’re mostly nocturnal, but with a bit of luck (and a good guide!) you might just spot one.
This gem of a park is also home to coatis, spider monkeys, sloths of varying toe-types, hummingbirds, spectacled owls and the red-eyed frog – known for its vivid crimson peepers.
Yosemite National Park, USA
Best for spotting… black bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions
Yosemite is famed for its breathtaking scenery: a confection of glaciated landscapes, undulating valleys and jagged mountains, rising from the ground like silvery teeth. Look past the stunning vistas though and you’ll find a diverse and fascinating array of wildlife. The easiest to spot is the black-tailed, or mule, deer, while the most audible animal is the coyote – it’s hard to miss its unmistakable cry as it bounces off the valley walls. More elusive is the magnificent mountain lion, also known as a puma or cougar, as well as the omnivorous black bear, which actually can be brown, cinnamon or even blonde in colour.
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Best for spotting… elephants
Ruaha National Park is so wildlife-rich; we’d be here all day if we were listing every animal and the 571 species of bird you could see there. One animal you will see though is an elephant; over 10,000 roam here – thought to be the highest concentration of elephants in East Africa. The best time for spotting these giant mammals is during the dry season, May to December.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
Best for spotting… sea turtles, rays, sharks, tropical fish, dugongs, colourful corals
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being a marine hotspot, supporting a whole manner of life beyond its 1,625 fish and 1,400 coral species. Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle live here, along with 133 species of sharks and rays, 14 types of breeding snakes and more than 3,000 kinds of molluscs – to name a few. It’s also home to one of the world’s most important dugong (sea cow) populations. Not only does this vulnerable, three-metre-long mammal hold great ecological significance, converting marine plants into nutrients, it’s also an absolute delight to see in the wild.
Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
Best for spotting… animals found nowhere else on earth
If you want to see animals perfectly adapted to their environment, head for the Galapagos Islands – it's what Darwin did, and look at what he discovered.
Endemic species like the Galapagos giant tortoise, flightless cormorants, lava lizards and the most famous Galapagos sea lion are here in abundance. This treasure trove of unique wildlife has evolved over millions of years – three billion even in the tortoises’ case. Sail the archipelago and you’ll get an introduction to wildlife at its most historic, plus you’ll be able to get up close too: most of the animals here haven’t had much human interaction and thus haven't learnt to fear people.
Tongariro National Park, NZ
Best for spotting… an abundance of birdlife
Movie buffs will know New Zealand’s UNESCO-listed Tongariro National Park for its cameo as the location of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thrillseekers know it for its glaciated landscapes and alpine adventures: Franz Josef, Fox and Tekapo are ripe for cramponed climbs and walks.
But we think its avifauna is the real celebrity.
Across this simultaneously volcanic and ice-carved parkland you can spot more than 56 species of bird, including rarities like the blue duck, the North Island brown kiwi and the kākā. More common, but no less beautiful is the fantail, the wide-eyed morepork and the endemic tui, whose feathers have an eye-catching, kaleidoscopic sheen.