For the most part, I love wildlife. Heck, I’ve been to the end of the earth to see it. Some of my favourites trips involved wildlife. However, not all “wildlife” is created equal.

Take spiders for example. I don’t particularly like spiders. I may spare the little ones I occasionally find at home, but a Namibian spider is a different story. When I found a big black one on the wall above my bed (with a body the size of a small plum and legs to match) I immediately ran to the front desk of the guesthouse. The guy followed me armed with a can of bug spray and had to spray the thing for about 15 seconds before it stopped moving. Worried about the air quality in the room after this? Yes, I was too!

But the insects I despise the most are cockroaches. I can’t explain it, but there is just something vile and evil about those bugs. The warmer the country, the larger the cockroaches. I positively refuse to sleep in a room that harbors them. I remember a sleepless night in Indonesia after discovering several in my room, and even one crawling over my sheets. Eeeek!

But then, insects are a common dislike. Nothing special here. What about mammals? I like most mammals, even though some can be rather scary. My safari in Etosha National Park (Namibia) was pretty relaxing. We were moving about in a big expedition truck and seeing mostly giraffes, zebras, kudus, oryx, and other antelope-like animals. The elephants also looked pretty harmless. There were some lions far in the distance, looking pretty inert in the midday heat. I love safaris. I hope to have a chance to do some in Tanzania one day.

Meeting the rhinos in Nepal was a different story. It’s easy to arrange a tour to Chitwan National Park, which usually includes transportation, accommodation for a couple of nights and excursions to see the wildlife (elephants and rhinos mostly).

Have you ever looked a rhino in the eye?

One of the excursions was a jeep ride at dusk, looking for rhinos. I had my camera at the ready, trying to protect it from the dust that was flying all around us in the open vehicle. And then all of a sudden the jeep stopped, and right there, by the edge of the road, a few meters away from us was a very large rhino, standing there, looking at us. I must have been shaking pretty badly without realizing it because I don’t have a single sharp picture of the beast. All my photos are blurry. And I usually have a very steady hand when taking pictures. But it gets worse. The following day, they told us that we were going on another safari in search of rhinos. A walking safari. I kid you not. You walk through the forest hoping to see rhinos. If one charges, they told us, you have to climb a tree. Wonderful. Of course I spent that endless hour and a half walking in fear, hoping not to see a rhino.

Although the rhinoceros is not my favourite creature, the one I despise the most is the monkey. Pretty much all kinds of monkeys. And believe me, the world has plenty of monkeys. They are smart, and cunning, and of course lack a moral compass. The ones who live around temples and cities and are used to humans are little thieves. They will come after anything that’s not solidly attached or properly hidden: sunglasses, cameras, food, and so on.

I hate monkeys!

I’ve always tried to avoid them, but once in Laos I came face to face with a little pet monkey tied to a chain in the yard of my hostel. Fooled by its cuteness, I got a little too close, and next thing you know, the little critter had his paw in my pocket trying to steal my favourite pen! I struggled with it and ended up rolling on the ground to get out of reach. In the process I got a nice monkey scratch on my arm which I immediately doused in large amounts of alcohol and antibiotic cream.

According to the guidebooks, monkeys will sometimes throw their feces at you from their perch in the trees. Nasty animals.

Another mammal I despise just as much is the dog. Not your house dog, but the stray dogs that litter the streets in most of the developing and third world. They’re wild and they tend to form packs. They’re unpredictable and people get bitten by them. I know, because it happened to me! So, yes, I stay as far away as possible from dogs, and if I expect to encounter them, I carry a stick (also good against snakes) or a rock. Or I go with a big guy who also carries a stick!

On the other hand I absolutely love penguins, iguanas, and birds. They’re cute, they’re funny, and they won’t attack you. In that respect, Antarctica and the Galapagos were some of my favourite trips. New Zealand and Australia also have their share of cute and interesting animals (flightless birds like the kiwi, koalas, kangaroos). I’m looking forward to visiting Madagascar some day to see the lemurs. And polar bears in the Arctic (from the safety of the boat). I would also love to see more big cats, but not on a walking tour.

What’s your favourite wildlife? Which one scares you?

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