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Explore the virtual wild

When Samaira Shah’s summer trip to South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 22-year-old marketing executive was disappointed. But she soon discovered that the park offers virtual safaris twice a day, at sunrise and sunset. “I saw a male lion basking in the sun and hyena cubs, which are a rare sight. The safari guide also answered my wildlife queries in real time. It truly was an immersive experience,” she says.

With travel almost coming to a halt, wildlife enthusiasts the world over are slowly discovering the joys of taking off into a virtual safari, observing animals and birds in their natural habitat via webcams, and attending interactive sessions at zoos. Popular options include safari tours of Kruger National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara, live feeds that let you observe a bald eagle’s nest in Iowa or watch gorillas lounging at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and paying giant pandas a virtual visit at China’s Shenshuping Gengda Panda Center. You could also get up close and personal with the meerkats of Zoo Miami or gaze at a gorgeous pride of lions at the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa. Nine lakh people took a virtual tour of Patna Zoo within a week of the launch of its streaming channel.

These live feeds and tours are free and easily available on social media. While a few have fixed timings, most are available through the day. All you need is a web browser or smartphone with a decent WiFi connection, and you are good to go. The best part is that these interactive sessions allow nature lovers to connect with wildlife experts to better understand the natural world.

Vikas Jaisingh, an advertising professional, took a virtual dolphin and whale watching safari off the Dana Point Headlands in the US last week. “The experts spoke about the ocean wildlife we spotted and we were given an insight into their eating, mating and migration patterns. This was followed by a discussion on the importance of connecting with nature. It was delightful and educational. And, there’s nothing like watching a pod of 1,000 dolphins flipping through the ocean to feel uplifted after being locked indoors for weeks,” he says.

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