I admit it: I’m a list guy. At the end of each year I rank my favorites in arts and entertainment here in the blog. Then I rattle off my favorite images and photo moments (and the runners-up). I took time to even rank my first fifty trips to Yellowstone a couple years ago.
But I’ve never done a big wildlife bucket list. It’s true, I did publish a Yellowstone wish list at one point, but that’s just Yellowstone. What about the whole world? I often refer to animals as being “high on my bucket list,” even though I’ve never compiled one, and in recent years I’ve checked off a number of my top target species. These are animals that are generally rare or unique in some way. Seeing them and—better yet—nabbing a decent photo of these subjects, is truly exciting in large part because of their distinctive characteristics or renowned elusiveness. Fortunately, there are still a lot of species I have yet to see, and I keep coming across more obscure critters that elicit an “oh, that would be cool too!” exclamation somewhere along the way.
So I think it’s time to share my official wildlife bucket list, circa late 2023. A Top 50 should be good.
First, I should tell you I’m definitely going to cheat a bit here. If I just listed the animals I have never seen or photographed, well… there wouldn’t be any photos to accompany this article! So I’m going to include some of the bucket list animals I have seen in recent years. I’ll fudge the rankings a bit, trying to remember approximately where I would have placed them before I saw them. This may be off a bit, especially since my continued travels have definitely influenced the remaining rankings as I’ve filed away more experiences and encounters. I did try to limit the “recently-checked-off” critters to the last few years. So animals like the aardvark, giant armadillo, short-beaked echidna, whale shark, quokka, and maned wolf—all of which I saw and photographed between 2016 and 2018—aren’t shown here. They would have all firmly placed in my Top 25, if not Top 10.
How did I rank them? Pretty simple, really. I took each species, compared it to another on the list, and asked myself, “which would I rather see more?” Did I place any limitations on myself? No, this is pretty much confined to animals I have not seen. A few are general types of animals, but they’re mostly categorized by species. There may be some obvious omissions. Perhaps you’re assuming I’ve seen a polar bear, Ethiopian wolf, giant panda, Komodo dragon, Amur Leopard, or Shoebill Stork in the wild. Nope… but they didn’t make the list. As you’ll see, I’m mostly into rare or strange critters.
I’m also still mostly into mammals, despite my increased appreciation for birds, and respect for herps and bugs. In the Top 50, you’ll find:
(Wait, that’s more than fifty! Read on to see why…)
Take a look and see how many of your own bucket list species are on this list!
Also, note that I will link to images of the species I have not seen in Wikimedia Commons or fellow photographers’ work—if they have been photographed in the wild and aren’t baited—so you can see what they look like.
1) Canada Lynx: For a long time this was neck and neck with the creature below for the top of my bucket list. This was probably due to the fact that both are such rare sightings in Yellowstone, and I sort of leaned toward the lynx as my most desired creature because X number of them (very few) had been documented in the park since the 1970s. But it’s also a wild cat, which I’m usually fond of, and a very handsome one at that! In early 2020, some friends and I traveled to Manitoba to look for lynx. Our first day was a bust, but on the second frigid day (-39 degrees!), I followed tracks that led to this juvenile cat.
It really wasn’t all that cooperative, which I could also say about the family of four cats we saw trot into the woods an hour later. If I were including animals I’ve seen but haven’t successfully photographed, the Canada lynx would still be on this list!
1) Wolverine: Look, I know where to go if I want to see and photograph a wild wolverine. About 90% of the wolverine photos you see are taken at the hides on the Finnish-Russian border. But those animals are baited, so I have no interest in visiting. So I will continue to hope I stumble into one, as my colleague MacNeil Lyons did in Yellowstone in 2022. Fat chance of it happening, but we did find wolverine tracks during one of my winter tours, so you never know.
Why wolverines? Obviously, their elusive nature plays a big part in it. The majority of wolverine sightings I hear about from Yellowstone are usually misidentified marmots or badgers. They are not a common sight outside of that one spot in Finland (though sometimes people have luck seeing them on hikes in Glacier National Park). And I imagine their ferocious reputation adds to the mystique. Plus, they are mustelids, pretty close to being my favorite type of animal. I suspect you’ll see a few more members of the weasel family on this list…
2) Pangolin: Another Top Ten critter I landed just in the last couple years. I wrote about my pangolin quest here in the blog, and the years it took to plan and finally make the trip a reality.
It’s rare, it’s strange, it’s threatened by rampant poaching efforts… Though the photo opportunities were fleeting and challenging, this encounter was worth the wait.
2) Black Leopard or Jaguar: It didn’t take long for me to bend the rules on this list. I have seen both leopards and jaguars before. But never a “black panther.” That’s the common name for a melanistic leopard or jaguar. This animal was never on my mind, because a sighting never seemed terribly realistic (outside of one I saw at the San Diego Zoo years ago). Many years ago I traveled to a research station in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. It was a major letdown in terms of the wildlife, but a couple years later a British photographer went there for a month, and landed the sighting of a lifetime. Black jaguars are incredibly rare (they do pop up on camera traps occasionally, and I know a Brazilian scientist who recently saw one in the field), but black leopard sightings have become more common.
First, there was the famed black leopard of Kabini, in southern India. I toyed with the idea of making a pilgrimage there, but it never fit into the schedule, and once COVID hit I figured chances were slim that I’d get there in time to see it. But soon we started hearing about black leopards in Kenya… and now there’s one cat that everyone is photographing. I hope to add myself to that list soon, as I have a scouting trip planned to find the cat (and maybe a bonus black serval?) in a few months. Wish me luck!
3) Harpy Eagle: The top bird on my wish list, and another bucket list creature I hope to check off very soon! There’s debate about what the world’s largest eagle species is. The Harpy is one of them, but is probably the most famous. Known for its massive talons and tendency to snatch monkeys and sloths from the rainforest canopy, this is a legendary bird. As with any elusive jungle animal, I become more and more intrigued the longer I go without seeing it. My closest chances? Well, we saw a very large eagle from a canopy tower in the Brazilian Amazon during my 2018 tour, but it was too far to make any definitive IDs. And just prior to my most recent trip to that area, a colleague saw one… but we missed out (we did see the beautiful Ornate Hawk-eagle, however).
So now I have a scouting trip planned for another location in South America… hopefully I finally land my Harpy! Update: I finally saw my first Harpy in January 2024 in Guyana, but it was only a fledged chick. We never saw an adult (though we did hear one later in the trip), so a partial goal remains!
4) Aardwolf: Along with the pangolin and the aardvark, I sort of considered the aardwolf part of the “Holy Trinity” of elusive African species. This member of the hyena family is a nocturnal insectivore. Until 2021, a piece of discarded hide from a lion kill was my closest encounter. But in the same place we saw the pangolin, we saw two aardwolves. Unfortunately, the grass was high and the resulting photos were less than stellar.
Believe it or not, we saw the pangolin, an aardvark, and an aardwolf all within twenty minutes of each other one night!
4) Silky Anteater: Another highly elusive jungle critter. Small, cute, and rarely seen, this is by far the most difficult of the major anteater species to find in Central and South America. I wrote about finally landing a sighting (and how it didn’t excite everyone) earlier this year.
4) Bush Dog: Is it a dog or a sausage? Regardless, it’s one of the rainforest’s most elusive mammals. I felt fortunate to see a giant armadillo in 2018, another medium-to-large mammal I’d consider super elusive… but bush dogs are seen even less frequently. Which is wild if you consider they usually travel in groups, which theoretically would increase sightings. There’s another jungle canid from South America, the short-eared dog, which probably gets discussed even less… but it’s not sufficiently sausagelike to make my list.
5) Okapi: Another highly elusive rainforest creature, but this time from Africa. And this one’s big! The okapi is the giraffe’s closest relative. Not as tall, and featuring a deep brown coat with zebra-like stripes on its hind quarters, it’s quite striking. And of course it’s hard to find. I don’t think I’d ever seen a photo of a wild one until I started researching this article. Found in western Africa (a place I’ve never visited, no wonder I’ve never come close in the wild), they’re rarely seen. Though I’ve tossed around some ideas about visiting the region, I’m not sure that a visit to some of the better places (in war-torn areas) to see them will ever happen.
6) Boreal Owl: You’re probably surprised it’s taken this long to get to an owl. I love owls, of course, so you’ll find a few different species here. I’ve been lucky to check off a few in recent years, but one that continues to elude me is the Boreal. Small (not quite Saw-whet small) and rotund, this is a cutie. It’s also found in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so my frustrations there have likely vaulted it into the Top Ten on this list. They are fairly widespread (the linked photo was taken in Asia), but due to their small size and nocturnal behavior, it’s no surprise I have yet to see one.
7) Tarsier: The tarsier has been high on my list ever since I missed it during my first visit to Borneo over a decade ago. Of course, that trip was quite short, so I never had a real chance. This is yet another one of those small, elusive rainforest critters one typically only finds at night. So as you might expect, it was a top target for me when I returned to Borneo this year. Guess what? Still elusive, but…
Now you can probably tell why people love seeing this creature. It’s actually a primate, believe it or not, and has the largest eyes relative to body size of any animal. We landed this one on the very first night walk of our trip… and never saw another.
7) Marbled Polecat: A more recent addition to my list. Is it a mustelid? Yes. So no surprise it’s up high. But just look at the fur (sadly, the linked photo isn’t the best)! I actually felt fortunate to see a steppe polecat in Mongolia last year, but it pales in comparison to its marbled cousin. What a fantastic looking beast!
8) Thorny Devil: Australia is know for its unique characters, and this is one of many I missed during my first visit there in 2016. It’s also the first reptile on my list! Yes, there are bigger and more colorful lizards out there, but the body design on this creature is simply bonkers. Part of me is tempted to plan a side trip to the desert next time just to look for them.
9) Pink Fairy Armadillo: Speaking of odd body designs… This is one of the stranger and lesser-known mammals in the world today. Oversized claws, a tiny head, that color… it looks like bad AI art. You can barely find any photos of them taken in the wild (the one I linked was an animal released by scientists). Probably because they’re small and spend most of their time underground. Suffice to say, I’ll probably never see one (though I said the same thing about the giant armadillo at one time).
10) Long-eared Hedgehog: Yes, this is a thing. It sort of vaulted up my list after viewing some of the awesome footage in the Wild Russia documentary series several years ago. My wife used to own hedgehogs (the typical African variety that is a pet here in the US), but the long-eared is on a different level when it comes to cuteness. It’s never been something I figured would be a legitimate target to photograph, until I learned that they are found in some of the areas I’ve visited in Mongolia. I just need to visit in warmer months, so maybe…
11) Pel’s Fishing Owl: This owl climbed my list in the last couple years primarily because of my failed attempts to find it in 2021. In September of that year, I scouted Zambia. Both national parks I visited during the trip were potentially reliable spots for Pel’s sightings. Since I was scouting for future tours, I didn’t set many personal goals. The only one? Seeing a Pel’s. So my guides and I looked every night (and often during the day)… to no avail. Fast foward to 2023, when I returned to Zambia for my photo tour. It wasn’t a priority, but we certainly made it known that this bucket list species would make people happy (my clients would mainly be happy if they didn’t have to hear me talk about it any more). Finally, at our last stop of the tour…
It’s a big, beautiful owl, and I was delighted with the daytime sighting. As a bonus, another Pel’s showed up at our lodge on one of the final evenings of the trip.
11) Andean Bear: It’s pretty well-known that I’m not a “bear guy.” I have had some very fun adventures with bears, and the spirit bear can be considered one of my favorite animals… but given the choice between bears and a lot of other mammals, I’ll usually go for the other stuff (remember, a polar bear can’t be found on this list). I will make an exception for an elusive tropical bear though, especially if it’s the only bear found on its continent. The Andean or Spectacled bear is sort of a black bear variant, I suppose. But it has that light facial mask that gives it a distinct look. There are more reliable places to see them nowadays (it’s important to find one where they’re not baited, however). The closest I’ve come is some claw marks found on a tree in the Ecuadorian cloud forest many years ago. I think some day I might have to make a special trip to try and see one!
12) Amur Tiger: Honestly, I almost forgot about this one. I passed over the cats pretty quickly. I’d love to see all of the remaining wild cats, but there weren’t many that stood out to me after the black panther. But just before I started writing, I began thinking about the Amur/Siberian tiger. This was probably influenced in part by my recent reading of Owls of the Eastern Ice, set in Amur tiger territory. I’ve seen a couple tigers in the wild, in India like most folks. But most of the rest of the world’s remaining tigers are pretty scarce. The Amur? Legendary. It’s not only the largest cat on earth, but lives in the snowy taiga for much of the year. A photographer once spent nine months in a hide just to get a brief glimpse of one. Most pictures seen these days are made by a few skilled camera trappers, so while I’d love to see this mythical beast, it’ll almost certainly never happen.
13) Clouded Leopard: The only type of “big cat” I have yet to see (and yes, there are now two distinct species, but I’d take either one). This one wouldn’t have been anywhere near this high if I hadn’t just returned from a cat-oriented Borneo excursion without seeing one. Similar to what happened with the Pel’s Fishing Owl during my first serious exploration, we tried and hoped to see many of Malaysia’s elusive felines, but only succeeded in landing brief glimpses of the two smallest. No clouded leopard this time, but I will keep my fingers crossed for the tour in 2025!
14) Raccoon Dog: We’re on a streak of Asian species here. Since I’ve spent relatively little time photographing wildlife in Asia, many of its species seem extra exotic to me. The raccoon dog could be considered a bit of an oddball no matter its location. A canid that really does look like a raccoon certainly will find a home somewhere on my list.
15) Painted Bat: This animal is the living embodiment of Halloween!
16) Tree Pangolin: This isn’t terribly specific, because there are a number of species of pangolin (including a brand new one). In fact, I didn’t actually know there were multiple species until the last ten years or so. The ground pangolin—super elusive but probably the most commonly photographed—instantly vaulted to the top of my wish list, and I was very excited to see it in 2021. However, a few of the other pangolins are smaller… and climb trees. I could only imagine exploring the rainforests of central Africa or southeast Asia and seeing one of these awesome and adorable creatures.
17) Yellow-throated Marten: Here we go with another member of the weasel family. This is probably the best looking marten in my book, with that bright yellow throat and belly, combined with its tall, regal pose. They’re also quite fearsome, known to attack much larger prey… and not alone! There are anecdotes describing this multiple individuals of this Asian species taking down deer.
18) Mola Mola: The one and only fish on this list. Previously, the whale shark occupied my top spot, as the world’s largest fish. Since I landed that sighting in 2016, I’ve shifted my longing to the mola mola… also known as the sunfish (click the link to the left and you’ll see why). It’s the world’s largest bony fish. They get absolutely massive, dwarfing humans. I would love to encounter one while snorkeling some day.
19) Platypus: I have one of the world’s three monotremes in my portfolio, the short-beaked echidna. What’s a monotreme? An egg-laying mammal. The platypus is the most famous, primarily for its odd collection of body parts. In addition to that duck bill and beaver-like tail, did you know it sports venomous spurs on its hind legs? We looked for them, but didn’t have any luck in Australia. It’ll be a top priority next time.
20) Quoll: Speaking of Australia—home to so many unique species—this one wasn’t really on my radar until it was too late. For decades, I’d set my sights on seeing the quokka in the wild, not knowing there was another “Q” animal living in the same country. And I actually like the look of the quoll more. Sure, it looks like a large rat, but polka dots?
21) Mountain Beaver: A what, you say? A mountain beaver! This may be the most elusive local mammal I have yet to see. Well, maybe not more elusive than the wolverine, recently popping up in random places like Mt. Rainier on occasion, so let’s say the most elusive suburban mammal. People get these rodents right in their yards here in Seattle, but I’ve yet to see one.
22) Black-footed Ferret: One of the more famous endangered species in North America, but of course it must also be a mustelid to make my list. Honestly, I’m more excited about those exotic Eurasian polecats, but given the scarcity of this one (it was declared extinct in the wild at one point) I would love to see and especially photograph it. A few friends have been fortunate to photograph this elusive nocturnal critter during the day.
23) Pallas’s Cat: I started getting more familiar with the Pallas’s cat when an early camera trap video went viral (you know, this one). Later, as it adopted a reputation as the Grumpy Cat, I saw a few photographers here and there landing some very nice photos of what seemed to be an unrealistic goal for me. Then last year, a client told me about a combination of snow leopard and Pallas’s cat possibilities in Mongolia. I had time on the calendar and was able to make it work. Turns out seeing the Grumpy Cat is possible after all… 23) Slow Loris: This was a species I’d seen for years at the Woodland Park Zoo’s nocturnal house (until it burned down). Definitely slow and cute… and like the platypus, venomous! As my oft-delayed return to Borneo finally came closer to being a reality this year, the loris climbed my list. I’m all about odd and elusive mammals, so the Borneo trip was a big one for checking off some of those goals. And yes, we saw them. Along with that tarsier, our best loris photo op actually occurred on our very first night! Oh, and since you’re asking: yes, it’s slow. Though not as slow as a sloth. In fact, a Pallas’s cat moves slower than a loris most of the time when it’s trying to stay camouflaged.
23) Mountain Tapir: I’m fortunate to have seen two tapir species already (in Costa Rica and Brazil), but the mountain tapir is a little different. It’s darker, fuzzier (necessary due to life in cooler climes), and has some nice white lipstick. It about as close to bears as a tapir might get, I suppose.
24) Red Panda: Another critter I’ve seen all my life at the zoo, but yet another one of those smaller, elusive mammals that is so tantalizing. I think the fact that they look adorable and quite different from a lot of other species (they’re also alone in their scientific family) also would make a sighting in the wild even more special. It’s difficult to find photos of wild individuals in Creative Commons, so enjoy this portrait of a wild red panda from another photographer on Flickr.
25) Star-nosed Mole: I doubt many people have a mole on their list, but this one’s something of a celebrity among obscure animal lovers. Sadly, the photo I’ve linked to is not of a live specimen, but it at least shows why folks fall in love with this unique character. The Just the Zoo of Us podcast just offered a fascinating look at this species and its surprisingly aquatic nature.
26) Fossa: If and when I finally make it to Madagascar, this will be one of my top goals. In fact, it’s probably the top animal I want to see there, moreso than the many lemurs and chameleons and owls. Yes, I’m attracted to the fact that it’s an impressive-looking, cat-like animal. But the top predator on the island’s food chain is in its own genus, loosely separated from mongooses and hyenas (all of which are actually related to cats). It’s been a goal of mine to make it there soon, so hopefully I’ll track this one down within the next few years.
27) Zorilla: At this point in the list you probably have started thinking that I’m just making up names. The zorilla is commonly known as the striped polecat, but it was listed under “Z” in my National Geographic Big Book of Mammals when I was a kid (the same tome that introduced me to the quokka). I never forgot the name, even if I didn’t know it was a mustelid until much, much later. Thus far, I’ve only seen one mustelid species in Africa, the honey badger. It would be amazing to make this skunk-looking weasel the second.
28) European Badger: Another mustelid! Europeans who see American badgers don’t know what they’re seeing. Americans who have only seen their own species don’t know what they’re missing. When you get beyond the striped face, and perhaps the tough reputation, the two species differ a fair amount. European badgers are larger than their American counterparts, and more social in terms of family structure, and—let’s face it—are much cuter.
29) Spotted Skunk: I’m on sort of a black-and-white run here. Look, I got pretty excited when I saw my first live striped skunk in Yellowstone a couple years back. I’ve also seen two species of hog-nosed skunks in South America to date. The spotted skunk seems like it’s much more elusive, and certainly seems cuter. I’m a sucker for dotted or marbled coats, I guess.
30) Ribbon Seal: Speaking of patterns (and hey, black-and-white), have you seen this seal?! Most folks don’t know about it, but I remember being struck by their wild coat markings as a child. I know zilch about them, including where to even see them, but that’s gotta be the coolest-looking pinniped out there.
31) Bushmaster: Okay, let’s halt the cute mammal streak. Snake break! This one’s on the list due in part to its reputation. I’ve heard a lot about bushmasters during my travels in Latin America, but have not had a chance to meet one face to face. For some guides and locals in the jungles of Central and South America, this is their most feared animal because it’s big. Long enough to reach up and strike you above your boots, which is never great when it comes to venomous snakes. They sure are beautiful though. Badass name too!
32) That Dragon-looking Nightjar, the Bear-looking Pika, and the Toy-like Aussie Glider: Yup, I’ve got three animals that look like something completely fictional, right out of the D&D Monsters Compendium. If you don’t know what I’m referring to specifically, they’re the Great-eared Nightjar, the Ili pika, and the Greater glider.
33) Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock: Like the Harpy Eagle, this is a species I hope to check off fairly soon when I head back to South America next month. I have seen the much more popular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (though only got a decent photo of the female). The Guianan is built differently. A crazy shade of orange, frills everywhere… it simply looks less bird-like and more punk-like, which I think makes it appealing. Update: we had some wonderful sightings of this bird in Guyana in January 2024. It is magnificent!
34) Grison: This is like the fifth vaguely skunk-like animal on this list, probably. Another member of the weasel family, it’s actually much closer in appearance to a honey badger… just miniaturized and found in South America, rather than Africa. This one’s on my list because my guide in Patagonia had a great sighting of a family of them a few years back… just not when I was around. I want it! There are two species, by the way. I’m not picky.
35) Geoffroy’s Cat: Lumped with the grison for the exact same reason: it was seen a smattering of times by my friends in Patagonia, and is a super elusive goal whenever I go down there. And small spotted cats are cool, of course.
36) Margay: Would I rather see a margay—another small spotted cat—or a Geoffroy’s cat? I went back and forth on this one. I’ve actually been fortunate to see a few ocelots now in the rainforests of Costa Rica and Brazil, but the margay is a bit smaller and more elusive. And those large eyes…!
37) Weedy Sea Dragon: It only came onto my radar around the time of my Australia trip, but this incredible seahorse relative proved to be out of reach for us then. I’ve only ever seen one wild sea horse (briefly in the Galapagos), so I can’t imagine ramping up to this one. Its cousin, the leafy sea dragon, takes the mimicry game to an even high level, but the weedy’s got some nice color. I’d probably be happy with either.
38) Violet-backed Starling: This bird is on my list for one reason: I don’t have photos of a truly purple animal. That’s my UW fandom coming through, perhaps, but it’s crossed my mind over the years to do a color-based wildlife calendar theme, and I always stumble when it comes to purple. Unfortunately, this species is never around during the dry season when I visit South Africa. Otherwise, I’d probably have a good chance for it.
39) Binturong: A species that entered my consciousness during my childhood (again, thanks to that Big Book of Mammals, I suspect). For those Stateside, you may know it better as a bearcat, the University of Cincinnati mascot. It’s actually a species of civet, and was another possibility during my recent Borneo adventure. I sort of considered it the most unique and least likely sighting… yet it provided the best photo opportunity out of the five civet species we saw! Unexpectedly, I came away considering this the wildlife highlight of the trip. And of course, the fact everyone does or should know about binturongs is that they smell like… popcorn (okay, it’s their pee that smells like popcorn, but if they smell that way you get a sense of what’s going on).
39) Manatee or Dugong: I’d honestly love to see either of these “sea cows.” I won’t be going to Florida any time soon (I know there are international destinations where one can find manatees), and we missed dugongs in NW Australia, so it may be a while longer on this one. Still, I think it could be fun to photograph them if the situation and location were right (i.e., low pressure).
40) Long-beaked Echidna: The second monotreme I have yet to see. I was fortunate to have a great session with a short-beaked echidna in Australia. The long-beaked is a little less cute, a bit more odd, and in a place that’s not quite as accessible (primarily New Guinea). A “long lost” species of long-beaked was recently documented for the first time in six decades.
41) Aye-aye: The ugliest of the lemurs with that giant middle finger. That’s all you need to tell me and I’m hooked! I did finally get to see one in person at the London Zoo a few years back, but it would be awesome to see one in the wild (not baited, however).
42) Spotted Owl: We have a lot of owls to finish off this list. This one is probably up there because of its diminishing numbers. And I think it’s a bit prettier than the now-ubiquitous Barred Owls that have displaced it. Seeing a Spotted would be special, but I’m unlikely to make any special pilgrimage to see them.
43) Otter Shrew: This is just one of those species that I had no idea existed until I was perusing a wildlife guide in Africa. The name alone makes it worth lusting after. How many people can say they’ve seen an otter shrew?
44) Striped Rabbit: My second lagomorph (after that pika). Bunnies normally don’t excite me that much, but I’ve already proven that I’m easily seduced by cool patterns. Which the striped rabbit has. It’s also pretty darn rare.
45) Walrus: I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to see them up in Alaska, but I suspect Svalbard is a better bet (if I can ever convince myself to make a—yawn—polar bear trip ;). No doubt about it: walruses are cool. Not terribly dynamic, but so large and prehistoric in appearance that it’s impossible not to be impressed. Plus, I’ve seen some darn good walrus photos from some of my colleagues over the years that are pretty inspirational.
46) Coconut Crab: Yes, I have time for invertebrates. I enjoy photographing bugs during my rainforest trips, and I’ll gladly photograph a crab (I was pretty excited to find a colony of fiddler crabs in Costa Rica earlier this year). The coconut crab is large and alien-like, so I’m game!
47) Bay Owl: I always thought this was one of the cooler looking owls left on my list (I only have ~170-180 species to go). But I honestly never gave it much thought… until we just missed the damned thing in Borneo! My dad saw it, but it flushed before the rest of us could spot it. Knowing a photo opportunity with another new species (we also saw but missed photos of a wood owl I’d never encountered earlier in the trip) means it’s an instant add to the Top 50. Fingers crossed for 2025!
48) Stygian Owl: Had to give up its spot to the Bay Owl, but it still squeezed in here. I always liked the looks of this one: dark with distinctive tufts. “Stygian” literally means “very dark.” Cool owl. Cooler name.
49) Sooty Owl: Last owl for now, I promise. Barn Owls are widespread, but have usually given me problems. I finally have a few Barn Owl photos under my belt (thanks mostly to Brazil trips rather than anything local), but can always do better. But what I’d rather see is the Barn Owl’s dark grayish cousin, the Sooty. What a beauty!
50) Koala: When I visited Australia I saw a lot of cool and mostly new animals… but not the koala. Mostly known for appearing cute and cuddly, or perhaps for the fact that it’s stoned half the time from all that eucalyptus. They sleep a lot, have weird toes, and often appear as victims in increasingly-common wildfire rescue stories. The popular appeal of this animal may have a little to do with the fact that it squeezed onto the bottom of my list, but I also feel that I failed a bit in visiting Australia and not seeing one. Will have to try again some day.
Species I Forgot That Would Have Made the List:
Unspotted Saw-whet Owl: How could I forget this little one? It’s been a long-shot dream of mine since I first started traveling to Costa Rica (the most likely place I’ll see it). Definitely would’ve pipped a few of the lower-ranked owls on the list above, and probably would have landed in the 20s-30s.
Goliath Birdeater: The bird-eating spider! Completely forgot about it… until I saw it in Guyana recently. A magnificent animal, which probably would’ve crept into the bottom of the list.
Manta Ray: I may have seen one leaping in the Galapagos, but my uncertainty means I can’t really count it. One of the ocean giants I would love to get in the water with.
Just Missed the Cut: Giant Pacific Octopus, Sumatran Rhino, Numbat, Tenrec, Tasmanian Devil, Northern Flying Squirrel, Mandrill, Dhole, Golden-headed Lion Tamarin,
Gibbon (finally saw one species in Borneo)