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4 best places for photographing big cats
Lions, tigers, pumas, jaguars -- all it takes to spot the fearsome feline foursome is an annoying alarm clock and a reliable guide
Africa is the default destination for spotting big game.
But once you’ve bagged the Big Five, what’s next?
One emerging activity for wildlife lovers is searching for Big Cats.
Tour operators specializing in feline safaris have emerged over the past several years, and, as with everything safari-based, most commonly operate in Africa.
But there are also Asian and Latin American treks to be made for Big Cat experiences.
Found in Mexico and Central and South America, the jaguar is the world’s third largest cat, after the tiger and lion.
Defined by its yellow-brown coat decorated with black spots, jaguars are similar to leopards but with broader heads and more solid torsos.
The Brazilian Pantanal -- the world’s largest wetland, spanning 54,000 square miles and with more open terrain than the Amazon -- offers some of the best viewing with a reported 5,000 jaguars inhabiting the area.
Safaris take place on small motorboats that travel the rivers, passing by savannah, scrubland and flood plains.
Latin American tour operator, SouthWild, guarantees at least one jaguar sighting if you stay three nights in a floating hotel.
So far they boast a 100% success rate. I had three sightings on a three-night, four-day trip.
SouthWild; +51 1422 9888; from US$3,795 per person for six nights; email@example.com; www.southwild.com
Tigers and leopards, India
India's Bengal tigers aren't easy to spot.
At the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces property of Baghvan Lodge in Madhya Pradesh, guests wake at 5 a.m. for the chance to spot them on safaris around Pench National Park.
The park is open between November and March (monsoon season forces closure between June and October).
On a four-night stay in January, I saw plenty of paw prints and discarded kills, but no tigers.
March is the month that brings most tiger sightings, but there’s no guarantee -- there's just too much undergrowth for the big cats to hide in.
I did, however, spot three leopards -- a mother and two cubs, lying on a large stone waiting for the sun to set.
Enchanting Travels; +1 888 263 2574; from US$3,890 per person for six nights; www.enchanting-travels.com
Botswana isn't about rows of 4WDs crowding round a kill. Instead, the country follows a philosophy of low impact, high yield eco-tourism.
This means higher prices, lower numbers of tourists and better quality sightings.
Expert Africa’s Lion Safari covers both the Okavango Delta and more unusual Linyanti region further north.
Both are places for high quality sightings, and evenings spent kicking back in the lap of rustic luxury.
Among many sightings, I watched as a lioness and her cubs fed on a giraffe.
Expert Africa; +1 800 242 2434; from US$6,000 per person for seven nights at three different camps; www.expertafrica.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Also on CNN: Searching for hippos in the Okavango Delta
The puma is the world’s fourth largest cat. Native to the Americas, the puma has more than 40 names in English alone, including mountain lion and cougar.
In Patagonia, pumas are known to prowl through Torres del Paine National Park. Sightings, however, are rare.
That doesn't stop some tour operators from "guaranteeing" a photo op.
With the help of local park guides, and some painful 3 a.m. wake-up calls (safari and sleep never seem to go hand in hand), I did manage to notch four separate sightings.
The most memorable was a mother with a pair of yearling cubs in tow, standing on a ridge, silhouetted against the early morning sky.
SouthWild; +51 1422 9888; from US$3,000 per person for four nights; www.southwild.com; email@example.com