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10 Cute, Rare Animals To Seek Out On Your Gap Year

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 01 / 07 / 2021

Gap Year Advice

We are huge animal lovers over here at The Leap, and try to do as much as we can to help preserve endangered animals as part of our gap year programmes across the world.

Sadly, for many of them, time isn't on their side...will they be here in 5 years time? Many leading conservationist think not and it's a battle The Leap joined some years ago by supporting through volunteer manpower! To date we have sent 1000's of volunteers to help protect and prolong their stay on our planet.

Here are 10 animals that you might just spot on your gap year.

1. The Blue Squamosa Clam

Seen in the photo above, the Blue Squamosa Clam is a thing of beauty. Originating from Indonesia, and often seen in aquariums. The large scales on it's surface are frequently used as a shelter for other organisms. This was a photo from our Kenya team who headed out in June 2021 and spotted this on one of their marine conservation snorkel activities off the coast of Kilifi.

2. Quetzal

A striking beautiful bird native to rainforests and highlands. Our Costa Rica team were lucky enough to witness one of these in Monte Verde Cloud Forest when they were among some bird watching fans who couldn't believe their eyes. They have an irredescent green back and a red chest which is best seen when they are soaring through the trees in all their glory outstretched at about 30cm wide. Passionate about helping conserve wildlife? Join us on our Costa Rica Adventure or Costa Rica Rewilding program where you volunteer in an animal sanctuary and help out first hand.

3. Leopard

The majestic leopard is a sight that will stay with you forever. You will never forget the first time you were lucky enough to see one. Best place to spot them? Tanzania - get yourself to the Serengeti and thank us later. We can hook you up with gapper friendly safaris direct with our host out in Tanzania - how? Join Leap VIP and let's go.

4. Cambodian Elephant

Totally different to the African elephant, the Asian elephant has a distinctive appearance. There are estimated to be between 400-600 wild elephants left in Cambodia. This must be on your bucket list. Join our Cambodia program where you will get to visit Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary and help rehabilitate these creatures.

5. Sloth

Sloths became a bit of an internet sensation a few years ago, and we completely understand why – they are pretty awesome and have a very chilled way of life. They are tropical mammals that live in the forests of Central and South America, and spend most of their lives hanging from trees, because their long claws make walking on the ground difficult. They don’t even leave the trees to give birth. They spend most of their lives either sleeping or eating and are usually quite solitary animals. Sloths are so inactive that algae actually grow on their fur (which is what gives them their greenish tint and a form of camouflage).

Although not as rare as a lot of the other animal species we’ve mentioned, they are hard to spot thanks to their home being high up in the trees. The best chance to see sloths in their natural habitats on one of our trips would be in Costa Rica, where you might see them hanging from the trees while you’re helping with forest conservation.

6. Pangolin

Rare and endangered the pangolin is something to be in awe of if you get to see one. With sightings in Namibia, this scaled, long tailed creature is sadly often sold for it's scales. Their scales look like armour plating and walk on their hind legs. Eyes peeled!

7. Hyrax

The perfect contradiction - the Hyrax is a small guinea pig sized creature that is actually related to the elephant! They are small mischevious little mammals are native to Eastern Africa and also known as a Rock Rabbit or Dassie.

8. The Vaquita

The Vaquita is the world's smallest dolphin and is from the Northern Gulf of California and Mexico. In 2014 there were 100 Vaquita dolphins left in the wild, today there are only 30. It is thought that within the year they will be distinct unless drastic action is taken place. The immediate threat to the dolphins is the use of gill nets used by the fishermen. Help save the Vaquita!

9. Northern-Hairy Nosed Wombat

They are currently all located in Epping Forest National Park in Queensland, Australia. Compared to the 1000's of miles they used to roam between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland less than 100 years ago.

A survey taken in 2003 stated that there were only about 115 northern hairy-nosed wombats left in the wild and only 30 of those were breeding females. However, in 2015 a study showed that the population had slowly increased to 230 Hairy-nosed Wombats.

10. Red Panda

Red Pandas are found in the temperate forests of the Himalayas, including northern Burma, parts of China, Nepal, Tibet and India. They are slightly larger than a domestic cat, meaning they are dwarfed by their distant relation, the Giant Panda, and look more like racoons than bears. They spend most of their lives in trees, are only awake for an average 45% of the day and constantly look like they’re smiling at you.

They are classified as endangered and their population continues to decline because of habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching and lack of breeding. They are legally protected in most countries they’re found in and there are several conservation efforts in place to help preserve their numbers. Their shy nature and nocturnal habits mean they are hard to spot in the wild, but it would be pretty amazing to see one of these very cute animals in their natural habitat before they’re all gone.

Get involved

So those are our favourite animals to find out in the wild. A lot of these can be found on one of our team programs or through Leap VIP but if you fancy your chances at spotting the rest then hopefully this has given you a few tips on the where and how.

If you’ve been lucky enough to already see any of these animals first hand then we’d love to hear about it and see any photos you managed to get.

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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