Wild dolphin watching Dana Point

6 Wildlife Heritage Areas You Need to Put on Your Bucket List



World Animal Protection and World Cetacean Alliance launched our Wildlife Heritage Areas programmatic work in October 2023. Here are six wildlife heritage sites you need to visit before you die.

When traveling, it may be difficult to find ethical wildlife experiences that don’t involve cruelty while still supporting local communities. To make it easier, World Animal Protection partnered with World Cetacean Alliance to create Wildlife Heritage Areas to highlight some of the highest quality, responsible, and community-led wildlife watching in the world.

Each Wildlife Heritage Area goes through an application process with specialized NGOs, wildlife experts, responsible tourism companies, and local communities to be considered. Each member must meet high standards of criteria including respectful human-wildlife coexistence, cultural significance, responsible wildlife tourism, governance, and management plan.

Algoa Bay Whale Heritage Area

Algoa Bay, located in South Africa, was named the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World in 2016, with pods of over 600 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins regularly present, and serves as a nursery for humpback whales before they migrate south to their feeding grounds.

Home to 13 species of cetaceans, Algoa Bay used to hold dolphin shows in a dolphinarium, but the local community has since become very outspoken against keeping cetaceans in captivity. Cetacean species that frequent the area include humpback whales, Southern right whales, Bryde’s whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, pygmy sperm whales, sperm whales, killer whales (orca), false killer whales, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Apennines Marsican Bear Heritage Area

In the wild heart of Italy lies a Wildlife Heritage Area with thriving biodiversity. Based on successful pilots in British Columbia, Canada, this local community is working to coexist with the endangered Marsican brown bear in the Apennines Marsican Bear Heritage Area, as there are only 60 individuals left in the world. This species only exists in the central part of Italy and is critically endangered due to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.

Dana Point Whale Heritage Area

Located off the coast of California, Dana Point is known as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World and was the first whale heritage site in the Americas, with more dolphins per square mile than anywhere in the world. This location also includes a preserved trail system three miles long that weaves in and around the Dana Point Headlands Conservation area. The trail has beach access, scenic overlooks, and public access to Strands Beach so visitors can explore tidepools.

Dana Point sees a number of cetaceans, with long and short-beaked common dolphins in pods ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 members seen year-round. You can also spot Risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, endangered blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, Byrde’s whales, sei whales, killer whales (orca), false killer whales, and sperm whales.

Gunung Leuser Orangutan Heritage Area

Home to wild animals, including the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, siamang and white-handed gibbons, sun bear, hornbill, and the slow loris, the Gunung Leuser Orangutan Heritage Area is situated in Batu Katak Karst Forest. It is also home to amorphophalus titanium: the largest flower in the world.

The Gunung Leuser Orangutan Heritage Area offers treks through the forest in search of the Sumatran orangutan, with whom humans share 97% identical DNA.

Santa Barbara Channel Whale Heritage Area

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Within the Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California is the Santa Barbara Channel Whale Heritage Area, home to one of the healthiest blue whale populations in the world. The waters, teeming with marine wildlife, are an important research area with conservation initiatives to protect the important species that frequent the area.

Known as the “Whale Superhighway,” the Santa Barbara Whale Heritage Area is one of the most important migration routes for whales along the West Coast and serves as a vital corridor for gray whales, humpback whales, fin whales, and blue whales. This Wildlife Heritage Area is home to more than 1,000 marine plants and animals, including six species of seals and sea lions and 27 species of cetaceans.

Volcanoes National Park Gorilla Heritage Area

Located in Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park Gorilla Heritage Area is renowned for its diverse and endangered wildlife, particularly mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas, a critically endangered subspecies of gorillas, are one of the rarest great ape species in the world, with just over 1,000 individuals left in the wild.

The Volcanoes National Park Gorilla Heritage Area, known as one of the prime destinations for gorilla trekking, is also home to a number of other wild species, including golden monkeys, buffalo, forest elephants, and a host of bird species.

Applications to be considered a certified Wildlife Heritage Area are currently open and we’re excited to grow our community of wildlife-friendly tourist destinations around the world.

Want more tips and tricks to being a wildlife-friendly traveler or more wildlife-friendly places to see? Check out our quick wildlife-friendly travel guide for who to book with, where to go, and ways to responsibly watch wildlife as well as our updated list of Wildlife Heritage Areas to visit around the world.

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