Tell Us About the Greatest Animals You've Met On Your Travels

animal

#1

Recently we asked our readers to send us pictures and stories about the greatest animals they’ve ever met on their travels. We just published our collection of our favorite reader responses, and there are some truly terrific beasts inside:

We still want to hear more stories about the animals you’ve met on your travels, so please tell us about your most memorable encounters below, and lets keep the conversation going!


#2

Oh! I love this question.

This spring my wife and I hiked to the Gergeti Trinity Church in Georgia:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/gergeti-trinity-church

Here’s my photo from the hike:

One the way down from this otherworldly structure, we encountered this magnificent beast (note the church at upper right):

As I wrote on Instagram at the time, “this proud and handsome hound has the coat of a polar bear, the loping gait of a mountain lion, and an angry snake for a tail. This dog, as they say, barks thunder and shits greatness.”

We named him Ghost, and he must have accompanied us for about two miles during the walk back before finally disappearing into the streets of the local town. He was positively prehistoric in his bearing.

Separately I’ll dig up a photo of a wonderful street dog we meet in Santiago Chile and named Two Socks.


#3

Oh , I have a long list of incredible critters I have met on my travels doing conservation work.

But I think the two that stick in my mind were from my most recent trip to Brazil.

One was a maned wolf that I saw at Santuario Caraca in the state of Minas Gerais. I had been looking for them for a long time in various reserves in Sao Paulo state but although I would find their tracks and scats , hear their strange calls at night (Sounds a bit like the werewolf in the film “American werewolf in London”) , and sometimes even smell their distinctive smell ( smells a lot like marijuana) I would never catch a glimpse of them.

Hoping to catch a glimpse of one in the wild I took a short trip to Minas Gerais to the incredible Serra Da Canastra National park which has one of the largest populations of the species anywhere in South America. Unfortunately despite looking for hours and following their tracks with a guide I didnt see any , although I did see other endangered species such as Giant anteaters and a couple of Pampas deer.

During my time in Minas Gerais a couple of local people had reccomended going to a place which seemed completely bizarre. They had told me of this old monastery in the hills and forests outside a town where there was a 90% chance of seeing maned wolves. It kept cropping up whenever I mentioned maned wolves in conversation , so I decided on the spur of the moment to just head to the monastery and try my luck.

It took me hours by bus to reach the town and once I reached there it was quite late at night and I was kind of stuck with how to get up to the monastery. The weather was really crappy , cold and drizzling with rain , and I thought that there was no chance I would get to see what I had come for.

But I bought a coffee from a little kiosk in town and ended up speaking to the owner who told me he would give me a ride up to the place. He drove up miles and miles of hills through the forest and eventually reached the destination which was a beautiful ancient monastery built by the colonial Portuguese. I spoke with the night warden and paid for a room for the night in the cloisters which once housed the monks. t was a deeply atmospheric place which is quite hard to describe , it was labyrinthine and baroque , and walking through the halls and cloisters felt like stepping back in time to a different century.

I remember hearing a storm breaking overhead and sort of pessimistically asking the warden what the chances were of seeing the wolves and he said something like “Oh , dont worry about , you will see them , they always come”.

After putting my stuff in my room , I headed back to the courtyard where the warden had told me the wolves visited to feed from a bowl of chicken bones left out for them. There I sat on the steps of the church with a pack of marlborough’s to smoke and a camera to take some shots listening to the storm overhead and watching the flickering of lightening.

For the first hour and a half there was nothing , I just sat there chain smoking , texting my girlfriend who was back in Sao Paulo, feeling cold and pessimistic and studying the baroque stone sculptures above the churches door. My thoughts at that moment were like " I wont get to see this animal , its not the right weather , I have come all this way for nothing".

But then suddenly just as I was feeling kind of sleepy I smelt that familiar musty marijuana like smell that always means a maned wolf is nearby and watching the staircase that led to the gardens below I saw this shadow slip up into the light of the patio courtyard.

It was a beautiful big male maned wolf and he walked very strangely for a canine, with the poise and gait of a deer which was fascinating to watch , he strolled over to the chicken bones and started munching on them. He seemed kind of calm for his species which is usually nervous and jumpy but his huge ears constantly twitched at the slightest sound and now and then he would look round at me pause for a couple of seconds and then turn back to his meal.

I even managed to slowly walk over towards him and get within a metre of him to study him up close and he seemed fine with it. I watched him for over an hour and he was an absolutely magnificent and charismatic animal that will always stick in my memory.

Thats one of the greatest animals I met during my travels , but I guess the other story is too long to write about right now , I’ll dig out a photo of him to show in a bit.


#4

WHAT IS THAT?! Some kind of leopard/dog creature. I love it.


#5

This is a beautiful story. I’ve never gone so far out of my way to see a wild species, animal or plant, and feel fully inspired to do so having read this. I am going to refrain from googling up a photo of a maned wolf so that I can see the exact fellow you met when you find that photo.


#6

Wow, what a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing it with us. Looking forward to seeing that photo!


#7

Thanks for the comment Luke , glad to inspire. I wrote an atlas obscura entry for the place here and it has one of my uploaded photo’s which I am struggling to find on my computer amongst all my files. It’s not a brilliant photo , I was definitely too engrossed in watching him to really focus on taking the pictures.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/maned-wolves-of-santuario-do-caraca


#8

Whoooooa. A deerfoxwolf creature. Incredible.


#9

That’s a pretty apt description , they are called in some parts of South America “Stilt foxes” because of how long the legs are. They are very strange creatures indeed.


#10

Wow! You can absolutely see the “poise and gait of a deer” in the photos. Amazing.


#11


#12

This gorgeous creature is indeed a more ancient breed. It’s the aboriginal variant of a Caucasian Shepherd. This all white, shorthaired variant is the rarest phenotype, known as the “Lion” type.


#13

Wow. All I can say is that I just marked “Want to Go” on that Monastery entry. Thank you for adding that to the Atlas!


#14

No problem , glad to have added it.

That’s a beautiful breed of dog , I hope it is conserved as part of the countries heritage because Its a real shame when decline in traditional lifestyles leads to extinction of a breed of dog. A lot of the molosser breeds have actually been brilliant in helping wildlife conservation of predators in areas of Southern Europe , so I just love them.

In Spain and Italy they have been providing these dogs to shepherds and rural communities. It really seems to help to keep predation of livestock by bears and wolves down because they tend to avoid killing cattle and sheep when these pugnacious pooches are around.


#15

The dogs in Chernobyl really changed my understanding of the exclusion zone. Before I visited on the Atlas Obscura trip earlier this year, “Chernobyl” conjured a scary image in my head, with hazmats and gas masks, but as soon as I arrived I realized how wrong I was. It’s an incredible untouched green space (where the majority of the land is half as radioactive as New York City is!) full of the most joyous animals I’ve ever seen.

They greeted us immediately upon arrival, and a small pack followed us around for a whole day from the local store to the bar - even when we got into a van. These smart, playful and friendly dogs run wild, though they’re cared for by factory workers and are vaccinated/neutered by an outside non-profit. It’s a hard life for sure - just think of the cold winters - but now the SPCA International group is setting up adoption programs for them.

Seeing the dogs and their relationship to Chernobyl reframed the contemporary narrative of the zone for me. Now, when others bring up this preconceived idea of Chernobyl being an unwelcoming area, the dogs are the first thing I tell them about. I do wish I got to meet Simon the fox, too!


#16

AH! What about that guy in the last picture?! Is he okay?


#17

He’s sleeping outside the food hall - he’s very okay and about to be very well fed despite the “Convincing request, of dogs not to feed!” sign above him :wink:


#18

Thank you for sharing this Larissa , this is absolutely fascinating !

I have read quite a big about the Chernobyl exclusion zone and the way that animals like bear , boar , wolf , deer and even bison (not sure if I have that one right ?) have recolonized the area. As a (soon to be) conservation biologist it is an absolutely fascinating case to study.

A question , did you see any of the wild animals of the area ?


#19

You’re right about the bison, actually! But sadly, no, the dogs were all we saw - Ukraine was experiencing a heat wave this August, so most of the animals were seeking shelter from the skyrocketing temperatures!

I do know other Atlas Obscura groups had seen the fox, and in previous trips one of our tour guide has seen bears and wolves.

If you ever make it there, you can actually spend some real time studying nature inside the zone. There are actually state-run hotels that you can stay in inside the exclusion zone and so much to see…


#20

I would absolutely love to visit the site one day , I think it looks like a really fascinating place historically and ecologically although in the back of my mind I would be a bit on edge with the risk of radiation poisoning.

That’s a pity , I know that a couple of years back the sightings of wolves and bears were quite commonplace and it would be such a sight to see them roaming around the old buildings and squares , almost eerie I guess , like a post-human extinction world…

Out of curiosity were most of the dogs tame ? I know that a lot of the formerly domesticated animals like the house cats just reverted back to a wild state in the absence of humans.

It would be awesome to adopt a dog from Chernobyll , I bet there are some really lovely dogs that need homes. I’ll never have the money to do so but I guess if I did I would come up with a name for him/her like Neutron , fission or Gamma or something