BY MANIDIPA MANDAL
This is part 2 of a planned 4-part series on digital vacations. In part 2 here, everything about animals and their environments! To read part 1, head here. To read part 3, head here.
It’s too hot, come June, for animal crackers in your soup. But do not let that and covid-19 stop you from tracking some wildlife along jungle, coastal or even desert trails—or diving after them underwater!
After all, it is World Environment Day today—and the theme for 2020 is biodiversity, the motto to make “time for nature”. So this week in our virtual vacations series, we’ll (re)visit everything about animals and their environments.
Animals: Zoos, safaris and more
San Diego Zoo
Ostriches, San Diego Zoo
- One of our favourite places worldwide for both land and aquatic creature features is San Diego Zoo. Their livecams bring you up close to adorable penguins, pandas, polar bears, koalas, burrowing owls, baby elephants and more.
- Don’t miss the condor, baboon and platypus cams at the Safari Park either.
- Youngsters can visit the virtual butterfly jungle this summer.
- Elementary and even pre-primary children will enjoy browsing the Animals and Plants microsite with your help, and visiting at San Diego Zoo Kids.
- Kids in middle school and up can sign up for the free Zoo Academy courses too.
- Young adults and grown-ups can join actual real-life-but-remotely research with the Wildwatch projects.
- For the duration of your trip, switch the whole family’s Zoom backgrounds to San Diego, why don’t you?
- And for screen time together, Kids Corner episodes are great light infotainment.
Age Group: Something for everyone.
Audubon Society, USA
Puffins, off coast of Maine
- The Audubon Society’s actual kids’ programme may be a little too foreign for some of our fledglings, but we do think all age groups, even toddlers, will enjoy their live cams of seals, osprey, guillemots and of course puffins—part of their Project Puffin off the coast of Maine.
Age Group: Toddler-hood and up.
Rhinos at Kruger Park
- Wildearth has a slew of clips streaming across your screen, and we love the safariLIVE experiences too; their specials for children come from Maasai Mara and Greater Kruger Park.
- Asilia, whose camps and lodges have had to close down like most hospitality in the region, is offering virtual safaris too, meanwhile. &Beyond is doing this too, with twice-daily sunrise and sunset game drives lived-streamed from Ngala and Djuma private reserves, of which the first hour of the afternoon drive takes live questions from children (parents, sign up here to let them ask).
- &Beyond’s guides in Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Phinda Private Game Reserve also report on Instagram TV when they have a sighting.
- In comparison, the South African Ulusaba private reserve’s updates are not the most prolific; but they are certainly, well, Insta-worthy.
- Another daily drive we love is from the gorilla migration corridor in the Democratic Republic of Congo—the Grace project streams through the night, and you can get to know the family better on their site, maybe even adopt an ape.
- You’ll also like the elephant cam from Tembe Elephant Park, straddling Zululand and Mozambique.
A herd of elephants, Africa
- If you want lions and leopards and hyenas as well, log on to Africam, broadcasting from eight locations.
- One of the easiest and laziest safaris we found, however, is Tau Game Lodge’s, near the border of Gaborone, Botswana.
- We also like Tswalu, on the edge of the Kalahari.
Age Group: Preschool up.
The Galapagos Islands
Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands
Just exploring this hotbed of evolution via Google’s Street View alone is an adventure, but PBS Nova’s lesson plan has essential ancillary reading as well as a map of Darwin’s journey to retrace as well.You will also learn here what scientists have discovered since Darwin’s days, ergo, what he missed!
- If you would like more human-guided perspective, try this resource from National Geographic, featuring marine scientist Enric Sala.
- Then continue to cover current scientific and conservation efforts in the Galapagos with the Darwin Foundation.
Age Group: Tweens onwards.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore
- A bit of a misnomer in that this is a cluster of zoological gardens, but unique in that they are built on an open-air, immersive concept, the WRS venues include the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park. Pity they are reluctant to showcase official versions, but these are some of the most accessible and child-friendly wildlife attractions around the world, so take a dekko.
- The websites do have a lot to see in still and text though—Jurong Bird Park’s species and zones, ‘wild scoops’ from the Night Safari, shows and spaces from the River Safari.
Age Group: All ages.
Oceanografic, Valencia, Spain
Oceanogràfic de Valencia, Spain
- The largest aquarium in all of Europe and the third largest in the world, is striking both inside and out—the architecture is positively dramatic. Nine two-tiered underwater towers represent major global ecosystems, holding some 500 species, including birds and reptiles. It even has a special tank just for jellyfish.
- There’s a dolphinarium, a mangrove swamp, marshes and the world’s longest shark tunnel too. Here’s their virtual tour.
Age Group: All ages.
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Giraffe at Ouwehands Dierenpark
Crocodiles at Alipore Zoo, Kolkata
- If you’re stopping by Japan, which is sadly missing a lot of expected tourism this year due to putting off the Olympic Games 2020, our young naturalists and scientists will enjoy the National Museum of Nature and Science too, and Sapporo Maruyama Zoo’s animal videos.
- Wildlife we see around the world today is but a fraction of the life Earth has borne over the centuries. Take a deep look into evolution and extinction at the Smithsonian.
- These river otters are a favourite with my youngster.
- Dive under Sentosa Island, Singapore, to the E.A. Aquarium and then collect some virtual backgrounds to awe your extended family during e-get-togethers.
- For a real immersion, try the Aquarium of the Pacific, off Long Beach, California, with live cams, an online academy and more.
- Pop into Tank TV at Sydney’s Sea Life Aquarium, and check their livestreams too.
- Or the American Museum of Natural History’s Ology series of summer activities.
- Or the Belgian Museum of Natural Sciences if you have a dinosaur-digging youngster.
- If your toddler’s particularly pleased by waddling penguins, Shedd’s the place for them to celebrate Earth Month; older siblings might like to find out about the turtle check-up programme.
- One of the world’s favourite underwater exploration units has to be the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its otters, turtles, jellyfish and sharks.
- Florida’s Clearwater Aquarium, with Winter the dolphin as its mascot, is a great place to not just watch marine life, but learn about their rescue and rehab—and what human activities makes those necessary.
- Dingo cam, koala cam, joey cam and more—the kids will love these cuddlies in Brisbane’s Loan Pine Koala Sanctuary.
- Meet the koala’s distant cousins, pandas and polar bear twins at the Ouwehans Dierenpark in the Netherlands.
- More still life than alive, but equally fascinating is the German Oceanographic Museum—though it’s not just once-living things, but also manmade artefacts in there, so we had to think hard whether to put it into our next series, on science.
- Would-be junior marine biologists, meanwhile, can beg their parents to sign them up for a course from luxury resort group Six Senses.
- From another luxury resort group, we have Anantara’s elephant camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
- For a look at animals with a more domestic history, pop into this Canadian farm—and learn where food comes from (at least in countries with mega-farming practices)
- As a parent, if you were hoping for something more “practical, educational” (a la Mr Banks from Mary Poppins), the WWF has just the thing to keep your kids engaged all summer long, without a nanny or a tutor in sight.
- Got your polaroid on, for fame and fortune? Watch biodiversity in your own backyard and post it on Project Noah, then exchange notes with others across the world.
Happy digital vacaying!
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.