Disneynature’s acclaimed new film Earth presents the most spectacular 100 minutes of wildlife footage I have ever seen. The film reunites directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, who produced the award-winning BBC series “Planet Earth,” in a new venture that brings equally stunning images to the big screen.
Our family watched, enrapt, as baby polar bears emerged from their den, little fur balls clambering onto the snow for the first time, while their father, miles away, sought desperately to survive on a melting ice sheet. We rejoiced when a thirsty herd of elephants made it to water after spending weeks crossing the parched Kalahari Desert. And we cringed as a wolf downed a caribou calf, and a sea lion became a one-gulp meal for a great white shark.
The film was beautifully and wondrously shot, every scene unleashing a wave of emotions: awe, delight, anxiety, heartbreak, hope. I was disappointed that Disney did not send a stronger conservation message, despite suggesting that the male polar bear’s ultimate death from starvation — the film’s most poignant moment — was due to a shorter seal-hunting season on the diminishing pack ice, a direct effect of planetary warming.
Yet Earth prompts a powerful engagement with the marvels of the animal kingdom. As a passionate wildlife lover, I have found some of my best travel adventures in the midst of animals. Most recently, my family discovered the joy of swimming with sea lions and sea turtles, wandering among nonchalant iguanas and blue-footed boobies, and communing with wizened tortoises in the Galapagos. Our Amazon trip with Natural Habitat Adventures was perhaps the most incredible experience we have shared together. No photography, no matter how superb, can compare with actually being in the presence of animals in their wild setting. And when so many species and their habitats are endangered, the desire to see them in their own environs takes on a greater urgency.
Natural Habitat Adventures provides amazing, up-close experiences with nature and wildlife in a mode that helps to ensure their future through ecologically conscious practices. As you make your travel plans for this summer and beyond, consider these wildlife adventures that will plunge you right into scenes from the movie:
Remember the whimsical scenes of swimming elephants in the film Earth? Botswana’s Okavango Delta was the life-giving oasis at the end of their long trek. See multitudes of elephants and much more from private safari camps deep in the bush. A commitment to small-scale eco-travel is sustaining vast animal populations in this southern African country.
While the Kalahari was dry and barren in the film, you’ll discover its green side on this adventure. During the seasonal rains, water becomes a magnet for desert game. Explore the delta marshes by dugout canoe, when the tall grasses teem with game, new babies gambol, and predators abound.
Africa’s Great Migration is one of the world’s genuine wildlife spectacles. While the Serengeti Plains are home to a profusion of game year-round, there is nothing akin to witnessing the phenomenon of the annual migration, when vast herds of wildebeest and zebra move in flowing columns across the plains in an ancient 1,800-mile circuit. This trip is timed during the herds’ return to the southeastern region of the Serengeti, to graze on the new grass that has sprouted during the short rains. Open-topped 4×4s provide jaw-dropping views of a host of hoofed game and predators, including lion and cheetah.
An ice-bound wonderland 600 miles from the North Pole, Spitsbergen is the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago north of Norway. Farther north than most of Greenland, this high Arctic landscape is among the most remote wild realms in the world. Some 2,500 polar bears live on Spitsbergen — some of the polar bear footage in Earth was filmed near here — and the island is also home to walrus, bearded seal, Arctic fox, reindeer, and extraordinary seabird colonies. This expedition voyage circumnavigates Spitsbergen, cruising along narrow fjords and towering glaciers.
There’s no better place on earth to see polar bears than Churchill. They mass here in great numbers each fall, awaiting the freeze-up of Hudson Bay and the start of the winter seal-hunting season. Warm tundra vehicles provide a specially adapted means of getting close to the bears in their natural habitat, and some trips (Ultimate Churchill) also include a helicopter tour to a denning area and a dog sled excursion over the boreal tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures also offers two photo tours, led by expert photographer-naturalists.
If you saw Earth, you surely grinned at the adorable Adelie penguins coasting over the ice on their “built-in toboggans.” Antarctica is the realm of the penguin, not to mention whales, seals, massive colonies of seabirds, indescribable landscapes and legendary history. This three-week voyage is an immersion into this mystical white wilderness, which abounds with a surprising multitude of wild creatures during the short southern summer. Expert guides, naturalists and geologists enhance an incomparable nature journey to the bottom of the world.
Earth tracks the journey of a mother humpback whale and her calf from their winter home in the tropics all the way to Antarctica, one of the planet’s most remarkable migrations. Humpbacks also migrate northward along the Pacific coast, summering in Alaska before heading for warmer waters again in the fall. This rare marine wilderness expedition catches up with them off the coast of British Columbia, where they share pristine inlets with Steller sea lions and orcas. Ashore, grizzlies and black bears abound. On Princess Royal Island, keep a keen eye out for the rare white Kermode bear, or “Spirit Bear,” a unique sub-species of North American black bear.
One of the most captivating and charismatic of all creatures, nothing can compare to an encounter with whales in the wild, and this trip gets you closer than any other. While its primary focus is the Pacific gray whale that migrates each spring to the breeding lagoons of Baja California, visitors often see humpback whales and dolphins, too. Zodiac raft outings allow for friendly, water-level interaction.
If you’ve seen Earth, you won’t need any motivation from me to make your next trip an odyssey into the Animal Kingdom — and if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to see this magnificent film while it’s still in theaters.