Elephants, Tigers, Bonobos and More—Safe Ways to See Endangered Animals

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Eco-tourism enables travelers to leave a lighter footprint while still exploring the wonders of Mother Nature. And some of the best places to travel off the beaten path are home to some of Earth’s most threatened creatures. However, there are ways to see them that are safe for all those involved.

Nature reserves allow adventurers to see endangered species in areas designated for the animals’ own well-being and many offer tour opportunities. Guided tours, traditionally led by local experts and scientists, are designed to show off the beauty of the wildlife, while ensuring that the natural world remains just that—all natural.

We’ve compiled a list of such destinations, and organized it in a way that lets you know where you can find which animal.

(Note: All of the sites featured below are home to threatened animals—Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN) or Vulnerable (VU) animals—as categorized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) or the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Where population estimates are available, they have been included.)

A bonobo baby.
Hendrik Schmidt/Picture Alliance/Getty

Bonobos (EN)

Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Wild bonobos can be found along the Congo River; their threatened status has been caused by civil unrest and low birth rates. Visiting the bonobos is a multi-day endeavor that includes hiking, rustic sleeping conditions and a good taste of jungle life.

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A Black-footed Ferret.
Kerry Hargrove/Getty

Black-Footed Ferret (EN)

Shirley Basin, Wyoming

The black-footed ferret was once thought to be extinct, but a discovery in 1981 told a new story. Now listed as Endangered, cloning has helped bolster this ferret population, but only to about 300 or so. To see them in the wild, try visiting Shirley Basin, Wyoming. Also, the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has just welcomed ferret babies, which can be viewed on the “Black-Footed Ferret Cam.”

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Monarch butterflies.
Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty

Monarch Butterfly (EN)

Canada, U.S. and Mexico

Each fall, Monarch butterflies journey between 1,200 and 2,800 miles from as far north as southeastern Canada to central Mexico as part of their wintertime migration. See them at Point Pelee National Park (Ontario), Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (Florida) as they migrate.

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Galapagos Penguin.
Getty

Galapagos Penguin (EN)

The Galapagos Islands
Ecuador

Galapagos penguins have the unique distinction of being the only penguin species north of the equator and in the Galapagos. The WWF says that less than 2,000 remain. Isabela and Fernandina Islands are the best places to see the penguins, but they can also be seen on Floreana, Santiago and Bartolome Islands, where tourists can swim with them around Pinnacle Rock.

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Western Lowland Gorilla in Zoo Atlanta.
Getty

Western Lowland Gorilla (CR)

Zoo Atlanta
Atlanta

There are so few Western Lowland Gorillas in the wild it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see one during a trip to Africa. Instead, opt for a visit to Zoo Atlanta, home to one of the largest populations of this ape. The Great Ape Heart Project, run by the zoo and veterinary partners, conducts research into gorilla cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of captive great ape mortality. It’s also a world leader in gorilla social and cognitive research.

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Northern Right Whale.
Getty

North Atlantic Right Whale (CR)

North Atlantic Ocean
Iceland

These baleen whales are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and Canada’s Species at Risk Act. As their name suggests, they can be found in the North Atlantic Ocean, nearest Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia and northern regions of the U.S. and Canada. Whale-watching journeys in the area are your best opportunity for catching sight of the creature.

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Yangtze finless porpoise.
Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua/Getty

Finless Porpoise (CR)

Yangtze River and Coastal Waters
China

The longest river in Asia was once home to two dolphin species. Today, only the finless porpoise remains, albeit in small numbers. Diving in the East China Sea and other coastal waters can reveal a glimpse of the unique creature, which lacks a dorsal fin.

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Borneo Pygmy Elephant.
Caroline Pang/Getty

Borneo Elephants (EN)

Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Borneo, Malaysia

Numerous endangered species and exotic wildlife call the Tabin Wildlife Reserve home, including Borneo elephants (less than 1,500 left in the world) and Banteng cattle (EN). The lowland rainforest area is open to tourists and is popular with photographers and birdwatchers. Visitors can extend their experience with a dip in the on-site waterfall.

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A green sea turtle.
Jay Fleming/Getty

Green Turtle (EN)

Hawaiian Islands

The green turtle can be found from the Hawaiian Islands to Guam, Madagascar and the Caribbean, and at points in between. They are known to migrate from beaches to deep water, facing predators that include fishing boats and egg hunters along the way. A scuba dive to a reef, or a visit (at a safe distance) to a beach during breeding season allow for the opportunity to see these creatures.

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A tiger on a frozen pond.
Getty

Siberian Tiger (EN)

Kedrovaya Pad Biosphere Reserve
Russia

Due to human activity and natural phenomenon such as wildfires, this reserve in the far eastern regions of Russia, near China and North Korea, is home to the only example of a south-Ussuri taiga climate on Earth. Formal boundaries for the area were established in 1916, which led to the development of an ecological education program. It is home to the Siberian tiger (around 400 left in the wild) and Asian black bear (VU).

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