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Find the World’s Rarest Animals on These Gap Year Programs

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 07 / 10 / 2015

Gap Year Advice

Who doesn’t love animals...?

People travel far and wide to experience different wildlife travel activities - from spotting the Big Five on Safari, to gorilla tracking in Rwanda, to whale-watching everywhere from Italy to Iceland.

The rarer an animal is, the more exciting it is to see it in its natural habitat.

So today I’ve compiled a list of seven extremely rare animals as well as information on where you might be able to find each one. The good news? All seven can be found as part of a popular gap year program...

Sumatran Rhino


What is it? The Sumatran rhino has been on earth longer than any other living mammal, but it’s now the most threatened rhino species, with fewer than 250 in existence. Sadly, these creatures are valuable targets for poachers, who hunt them for their horns, which are used in traditional medicines.

How and where can you spot one? Sumatran rhinos are the smallest of the living rhinoceroses and are covered with long hair, a bit like the extinct woolly rhinos. They also have two horns, which are dark grey to black in colour. Before the number of individuals lowered, they could be found in the Eastern Himalayas, India, Myanmar and Thailand, but now you can only find them (with a lot of luck) in the Sumantra and Borneo islands.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in Borneo: Jungle + Tropical Island + Mt Kinabalu + Philippines

Bamboo Lemur


What is it? Bamboo lemurs are named as such because they almost exclusively feed on bamboo shoots. The major threat to these primates is slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging, which has wiped out all bar a hundred or so individuals.

How and where can you spot one? The bamboo lemurs are characterised by their grey-brown fur, short muzzles and round, hairy ears. They have powerful jaws for cracking through bamboo and live in damp forests in Madagascar, where the shoots grow. Although they can be active any time of day, they’re most likely to make an appearance just after dawn.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in Madagascar: PADI + Forest Conservation + Island Hopping

Geometric Tortoise


What is it? From a bird’s eye view, the shell of this particular tortoise has geometrical symbols on it, thus giving it its name. Roughly 2,000 to 3,000 geometric tortoises are alive today and, due to urban and agricultural developments, the species is now restricted to small pockets of natural vegetation in the south-western Cape of South Africa.

How and where can you spot one? Geometric tortoises have a very strong black and yellow shell with patterns that are arranged in ray-like markings to help them blend in with their environment and fend off predators. They are extremely small - fully-grown tortoises reach just five to six inches in diameter – and are most likely to be seen west of the Elandsberg Mountains.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in South Africa: Safari + Conservation + Mozambique Coast

Philippine Crocodile


What is it? The Philippine crocodile is a freshwater crocodile, which lives in lakes, ponds and marshes. Because many of these habitats have been converted into rice paddies, the number of Philippine crocodiles is rapidly dwindling and the animal has also suffered from hunting and destructive fishing methods, such as the use of dynamite.

How and where can you spot one? The Philippine crocodile is a relatively small species, which generally does not grow larger than 3 metres, with a relatively broad snout and heavy dorsal armour. It is endemic to the Philippine islands (where you'll spend almost four weeks as part of our 10-week Borneo program), meaning it can not be found anywhere else in the World.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in Borneo: Jungle + Tropical Island + Mt Kinabalu + Philippines

Stubfoot Toad


What is it? Previously not seen since 1995, these bufonid frogs were thought to be extinct as the result of a widespread fungus that wiped out other amphibians, but were recently rediscovered during an expedition to Ecuador. Other current threats to the species include habitat loss caused by agricultural border expansion, cattle ranching and human settlements.

How and where can you spot one? Stubfoot toads are small and brightly-coloured. They are endemic to Ecuador and live in slow-moving streams and damp forests in tropical parts of the country. Fancy attempting to locate one? Head down to the forests surrounding Cuenca in the country’s southwest.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in Ecuador: Andes + Jungle + Galapagos + Adventure Week

Angel Shark


What is it? The Angel shark is a type of marine fish that lives in the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Costa Rica, as well as Alaska, California, Mexico and Chile. The number of angel sharks dropped significantly in the last couple of decades, due to commercial and recreational fishing, and they are now at risk of becoming endangered.

How and where can you spot one? These sharks are unusual in that they have flattened bodies and pectoral fins, giving them a strong resemblance to rays. They come in all different sizes, ranging from 1.5 – 2m and their colouring and markings make them camouflaged against the seafloor. You will have to venture all the way down to the bottom of the ocean to find an angel shark, as they are benthic animals.

Which gap year program should you choose? 10 Weeks in Costa Rica: San Jose + Pacific Beaches + Cloud Forest

Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat

What is it? A living population of Cuban greater funnel-eared bats was only discovered a couple of decades ago in the cave Cueva La Barca, which sits in in the western tip of Cuba. The population is abundant in the cave, however, this species is likely to become extinct due to its limited dispersal range, human disturbance and loss of habitat. It is estimated that only a hundred of these bats exist.

How and where can you spot one? The bats are funny looking creatures, with their funnel-like ears and disproportionately long tails. They also appear to have a moustache, as the hairs above their upper lip are black and stiff. There is only one place to find them… you’ll just have to head to Cueva La Barca!

Which gap year program should you choose? 6 Weeks in Cuba: Learn Spanish + Reef Conservation + Havana

Want to Meet These Animals?

Fortunately for you, The Leap offers volunteering placements in each and every one of these countries. So travel with us and you may be lucky enough to spot one of these critters (or two, or three, or four…)

Can you think of any other rare animals I’ve missed off the list? Tell us what they are by posting in the comments box below.

And remember to download our comprehensive gap year advice guide – The Gap Adventure Blueprint – which contains several chapters to help you decide what you want to do, whether that's wildlife conservation or something else. Good luck!

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