As human civilization has grown ever more mechanized, an instinct deep within us has created a yearning for the wild and the untamed. Thus, watching wildlife in their natural habitat has become a sought-after and rewarding adventure in today's world. It combines the excitement of the unexpected with surprises and revelations of the unknown. It is impossible to describe the thrill and excitement of finding an unsual or rare animal in its home turf. Depending on the terrain and the risks involved, many methods have evolved to allow us, Homo sapiens, to watch our fellow passengers on this planet going about their normal business.
Perhaps the best known wildlife watching activity is the African safari. Wild animals roam freely in safari parks sprinkled throughout the continent – parks which have been designed so that tourists can spot and observe these animals in safety. Visitors watch these animals do so by going on a “game drive” through the park in a vehicle, usually a jeep. Sometimes drives are also available at night for viewing nocturnal creatures. In all cases, a strict safety rule is followed - you may never leave your vehicle during a game drive, and all photography must be done from within the vehicle.
Another type of wildlife watching involves tracking the animal through the forest. The visitor follows an experienced tracker, often through rough terrain without trails, to find the target animal. This was the case when I went looking for, and found, the famous Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. Back in Bangladesh, I have tracked the primates of the forests of Sylhet, particularly Hoolock Gibbons, in this way. Compared to game drives, the tracking method is much more arduous and is undertaken in territories devoid of dangerous animals.
The wildlife watching experience in our own Sundarban is different. There are no roads to drive on. Further, the terrain is muddy and spiked with arrays of pneumatophore roots, making it virtually impossible to walk through most of this vast forest.
Therefore, visitors observe wildlife from their boat. Since Sundarban is crisscrossed by numerous canals and creeks large and small, boats are the natural and efficient way to explore the forest. Exploring by boat also minimizes the risk of nasty encounters with wild animals.
This style of wildlife spotting is similar to other wetlands. In the world's largest wetland, the Pantanal in Brazil, I saw jaguars, capybaras, monkeys and deer in the forest and giant otters in the river from a high-speed boat that charted the immense Paraguay River and its tributaries searching for wildlife. There were several tourist boats, and when one spotted a jaguar it immediately radioed the information to others. Boats are also used for wildlife viewing in Okavango delta of Botswana, another prime wildlife area.
Boats are the preferred method of watching birds in numerous places, such as the Danube delta in central Europe, Lake Kirkini in Greece, Smolla in Norway, the bird-filled lakes of Florida and our own Tanguar Haor and Baikka Beel.
However, unlike wetlands elsewhere, in Sundarban there is a special bonus: the magical and pristine beauty of the forest adds a new dimension to your experience.
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