Readers’ tales of unexpected wildlife encounters

From crocodiles in the toilet to leeches in your privates, Wanderlust readers have encountered all sorts of surprising wildlife…

12 mins

In the jungle

A green iguana (Shutterstock)

A green iguana (Shutterstock)

On my second day in Borneo my friend and I went up the river in a long-tail boat. I felt a snag-like bite in my downstairs area where my magic button lies; girls, you know what I am talking about. I may or may have not stopped breathing. Once the quick shock wore off, my first thought was that it was a zipper snag from my pants. Gritting my teeth and squinting my eyes I put my hand down to investigate and when I pulled it out there was blood all over. It had nothing to do with my monthly visitor – I’d encountered my first leech. I’d seen the film Stand By Me and thought the leech scene could never happen in real life! Nobody knew what was going on because I was sitting in the middle of the longboat between a guy at the bow and a guy controlling the motor. We had five minutes till we docked but I was getting scared the parasite would swim up my bits! So without hesitation I wrestled with the slimy creature. I tried to grab it a few times feeling it slip between my fingers and after a twisted tango, victory!

- Jennifer Schultes

While volunteering in Costa Rica, I stayed in a dilapidated dormitory. We were told to keep an eye out for the resident iguana who liked to eat from the compost bin, but was “for the most part harmless”. We spent the next few days laying paths, clearing bushes and shifting gravel and rocks. During this time we briefing saw a resting sloth and a sleeping snake (“very dangerous, you very dead” according to the rangers) but avoided the scary bullet ant. One evening we dismissed the scrabbling, scratching noise coming from inside the dorm as the wind on the metal roof. Imagine our surprise when we walked in to see what appeared to be the back half of a small dinosaur swinging wildly from one of the hollow support beams holding up the roof, right over one of the bunk beds (thankfully not mine). I’m unsure what was more unsettling; the size of the iguana or the fact that something so large was using the hollow beams above our beds to move around the building. A couple of days later I came face to face with the iguana as it made its way out of the composting pit. It was two metres nose to tail and it looked chillingly prehistoric. I made sure to give it a very wide berth.

- Benjamin Hilton Delhaye

This happened in the 1980s but it’s still etched in my memory. I was in a nice guest house in Nicaragua, on the outskirts of Managua. I checked in, lifted the toilet lid and found a crocodile snapping its jaw! I quickly shut the lid and ran for help. The owner calmly got a towel and grabbed the crocodile to release it in her garden! My Spanish was limited but I think she said it was only a baby and had crawled up from the drains – a fairly common occurrence.

- Caroline Gorst-Unsworth

After hours of trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda, there in the forest clearing was a female gorilla with her baby. It was a very cheeky little guy, jumping all over his mother. We were a respectable distance but suddenly the female made her way towards the clearing to my right. I froze in place to give her room to pass, however, the gorilla had other ideas and b-lined straight towards me. Before I knew it and with a heavy smack of her shoulder she sent me stumbling backwards. It was like being hit with solid 100kg punch bag! I was terrified and imagined rolling down the slope behind me never to be found again!

- Michelle Attard

I thought I saw a shape moving around the edge of the lake towards us in the rainforest in Borneo, but couldn't really make it out at that distance. Five minutes later I saw an orangutan hanging off the side of the bar. It quickly descended and made for our table. My wife made the schoolgirl error of leaving her can of beer behind as she fled and the orangutan picked it up and drank it!

- Michael Godfrey

We were camping in Venezuela and were told not to leave doors open in the toilet or shower block. The reason became very apparent the next morning. A giant anteater was curled up in the shower, fast asleep. The staff tried to lure him out with a saucer of milk but it proved fairly ineffective when you have a tongue that long! He eventually moved of his own accord. We discovered he'd been hand reared from a baby and released, but often came back to enjoy the shower’s cool tiles.

- Patricia Smith

When I was in Costa Rica in September 2019 I visited Cabo Blanco – one of the oldest nature reserves in the country. I spent a couple of hours trekking around on one of the designated walking routes and didn't see that much wildlife. Back at the ranger station, I I opened the facilities’ cubicle door to find a coati hiding behind the toilet. They’d somehow managed to get themselves stuck. Thanks to me it was released into the wild again.

- Holly Barber

In St Lucia, hippos walking down the main street made for an unusual traffic obstacle.

- Christophe Watson

In the forest

A black bear surprising a driver (Shutterstock)

A black bear surprising a driver (Shutterstock)

While standing on the deck of a B&B in West Virginia, a young black bear came and smelt my hands then went away. It was amazing.

- Linda Edwards

I found a family of baby pygmy possums in an oven glove in a hut in Freycinet National Park, Tasmania. The next day we all checked our backpacks for “passengers”.

- Val Underwood

I visited a park in Tennessee to spot black bears and the squirrels pelted us with hazelnuts, the rascals! The second time we visited, a couple told us they’d spotted black bears sleeping in the canopy of trees. Early the next morning, a bear walked quietly a metre from our car!

- Tina Van Den Berghe

Cycling along a dusty track on Rottnest Island in Australia, a snake slithered out in front of me. My brakes screeched to a holt, the snake stopped, turned to me and stared then slithered on. I described the encounter to an Oz local who told me it was most likely a venomous dugite.

- Anne Matthews

One hot afternoon I heard some scratching noises in the house in the bush in Australia. I investigated the laundry room and found a huge beast with big claws scratching through our empty bottles – it was a two metre goanna. On seeing me it tried to climb the walls. I shooed it out with a broom. My husband slept through it all but I showed him a photo to convince him of my monster encounter.

- Carol Hopperton

“Do you get porcupine around here?” I asked the hotel manager. “No, they’re not seen round here, more to the east,” he replied. “So what did I see yesterday evening?” I asked, showing him the photo of the animal we’d glimpsed crossing the road in Canada. “Erm, yeah… it’s a porcupine. It’s not meant to be here,” he replied, calling the ranger.

- Deborah Gilbody

On safari

A lion... in the savannah where it's meant to be (Shutterstock)

A lion... in the savannah where it's meant to be (Shutterstock)

On a trip through South Africa we entered a garden in front of a house which was the entrance to a crocodile park. I suddenly froze as there, lying on a picnic table in front of me, was a lion! We had just spent five days on safari in Kruger National Park where we had been privileged to witness lions (safely from a safari vehicle) kill an impala and buffalo. To see a lion in front of me stopped me in my tracks. A family pet Jack Russell suddenly appeared, and the lion jumped off the table and started to play with the dog. I felt slightly more relaxed. The lion then came up to me and put his front paws around my leg (just like a domestic cat!) and stayed attached. Eventually the owner of the property arrived. The lion was only a cub… but it seemed big to me with massive paws.  They can keep them unfenced up to the age of six months. He was just a week away from going into a caged area. It was scary, exciting and exhilarating – I will never forget being so close to such a beautiful wild animal.

- Terri Innes

A few years ago we were on safari in the Okavango Delta. We had gone out on the delta in a speedboat to view the wildlife from the water. Our guide stopped at a point where hippos congregated – obviously a respectful distance away from these extremely dangerous animals. Unfortunately he hadn’t noticed a hippo submerged just a foot or two in front of the boat. The hippo noticed us though, and emerged from the water, mouth wide open. Our guide made a very swift exit!

- Patricia Bucknall

On a trip to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, I got up early to run with some of the Ethiopian staff.  We were running through the streets when a hyena trotted by us in the opposite direction with a dead animal in its mouth. It took no notice of us and just carried on about his business.

- Susan White

After entering the Maasai Mara National Reserve on an afternoon safari we spotted a group of hyenas. After about 20 minutes they found their prey, a young topi. With hyena kills rare as they mainly scavenge, this was interesting as unlike lions that suffocate their prey. The hyenas broke the topi’s front leg and just started eating the poor animal alive. Its mum tried to charge the hyenas to scare them away with no success. One of the hyenas threw up in the air what looked like its heart and caught it to eat like you do with Maltesers. Brutal!

- Gareth Smith

I was woken by ‘snoring’ in my tent. Not unusual, but I was camping in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. I gradually realised that it was purring rather than snoring and it was examining the back of my tent. I quickly dived deep into my sleeping bag and trusted that the lion would go away. Thinking about it later, I don’t think the tent and sleeping bag would have stopped a determined lion. When I got up for breakfast I found that it had dragged washing round the campsite.

- Philip Wharmby

I was at a camp site at Sossusvlei in Namibia, reading a book with my head torch on when I felt a pair of eyes staring at me. I looked up and a large hyena was about 10 feet away. After a fairly relaxed staring competition it wandered off. I was reading The Lost City of Z in case you were wondering!

- David Harrington

My father suddenly stopped the car in Kruger National Park, shoved it into reverse and we shot backwards while being charged by a warthog. The family had been crossing the road and we had come around the corner. Not sure who had the biggest shock, us or them!

- Ellen Berry

One morning in Nigeria's Yankari National Park, I was rudely awoken by a noise directly above my head. Baboons were raiding the truck, in which until a few seconds ago I had been sleeping. Attacking in droves, they broke out from the cover of the forest, scampering up to the truck, jumping up the side and snatching what food they could find – bread and bananas that had been left out ready for breakfast – then just as quickly stealing away to the safety of the trees to devour their spoils. It took me a while to process the fact that there was a baboon less than a metre from my face, eating bread. Still in a semi-coma, I watched from my sleeping bag as one clambered up the back steps, lifted up a sleeping bag and took some bread then ambled off again. His pink bottom was sticking up in the air, seemingly aimed in my direction, as if to add insult to injury, or rather burglary.

- Phil Clisby

While living in Kenya, we took our visitors from England to Nakuru National Park. Driving on dirt roads, my husband suddenly yelled and braked hard but still bounced over a large snake crossing ahead of us. We stopped, appalled, but then saw it continuing on its way, totally unconcerned.

- Pamela Cook

On safari in Tanzania, I woke up with a start to find a small brown frog on my bed, a few inches from my chin. We stared at each other for a long time. Then, clearly unimpressed, it jumped down to the floor, under the mosquito net and disappeared. It occurred to me later that perhaps I should have kissed it…

- Helen Panconi

In the sea

An albino gentoo penguin (Shutterstock)

An albino gentoo penguin (Shutterstock)

Our group of 10 boarded a zodiac in the Antarctic, accompanied by a marine biologist called Sean. We landed on Cuverville Island to see Arctic terns and a colony of gentoo penguins busily nest building with stones. Sean shouted that he would show us a sight that would “just blow you away!”. Intrigued, we followed him around a rocky escarpment where we saw a blonde-hued penguin. Sean explained she was a rare leucistic penguin, an albino. She was blonde, beige and white with a scarlet beak. She looked beautiful – and didn’t she know it. She was surrounded by male gentoos strutting their stuff in an effort to attract her but she was supremely disinterested.

- Lynne Potter

I was snorkelling away from our little group in the Galapagos. Beneath me were multi-coloured fish, swimming in shoals. Then I saw a huge fish swimming serenely past. It took me a few seconds before I realised that it was in fact a shark. I observed it for a bit before it swam off. Back on board it transpired I was the only one from the group who had seen it. After hearing my description the tour leader decided that it was a whitetip reef shark, which is not dangerous, which is just as well.

- Dineke Ten Hove

Creepy crawlies

A camel spider (Shutterstock)

A camel spider (Shutterstock)

On an African safari I stayed in a hut that had a spider the size of a dinner plate on the wall. It wasn’t there in the morning…

- Jane Hampson

A huge camel spider emerged from the sand in the desert of Oman and ran over our toes! Our screams echoed across the wilderness.

- Carol Penn

On safari in South Africa, searching for the Big Five, we were stopped in our tracks by a family of dung beetles, escorting their load across the track, no doubt back home!

- Rebecca Hay

Our driver spotted a smelly little dung beetle from high up in the truck. The beetle was rolling dung into a ball to be used as a food source or a breeding chamber. Some species mate for life and who wouldn’t be impressed with a partner who can push something that is fifty times their body weight. It was fascinating watching him push the ball of dung along a dusty track. With back legs working like pistons and the hard shiny shell glinting this little creature was oblivious to his 10 minutes of fame. Desmond the Dung Beetle became a social media star. He didn’t rock but he sure could roll.

- Sally Henbest

Closer to home

A badger (Shutterstock)

A badger (Shutterstock)

We were camping near St Davids in Pembrokeshire when in the middle of the night we heard a snuffling and scraping in our kitchen tent. It was a badger, and it stole my gravy granules!

- Karen Howden

I found a hamster in the middle of my bathroom floor. We did not own a hamster… It turned out to be our next door neighbour’s pet which had escaped under the floorboards.

- Jessica Powell

My friends and I were bundled up in thick winter coats in Central Park in New York. My friend had a long, knee length puffa jacket on and as we paused to look at something a grey squirrel jumped up into her coat. I’ve never seen her move so quick or scream so loud. The squirrel probably got a worse shock than her, as it fell out of her coat and ran off. It still makes me chuckle to this day.

- Rebecca Smith

I live in Llandudno in Wales where there is a herd of Kashmiri goats. During lockdown there was less traffic and tourists so the goats came down from the hill, eating people’s lawns and wandering the streets.

- Yvonne Wilkinson

I remember my first trip to an isolated area in Scotland called Knoydart. We caught the ferry from Mallaig and carried all our food supplies for our one-month stay with us as there are no shops there. When we unpacked, we discovered several packets of chicken pieces had been carefully opened, the contents snatched out when everything else was left intact. Apparently the local gulls have sussed out that the supplies on the boat are unguarded and had become partial to scavenging on the fly as it were.

- Anke Demetriou

I spotted a muntjac deer in the Tesco Extra car park in Reading.

- Keiko Taylor

A caterpillar in my salad. It was delicious!

- Anthony Green

When me and my five kids were in the Welsh countryside on holiday, we saw a stoat. It stood on its back legs staring at us for ages before bouncing off. We then saw what I think was a pheasant, with lovely golden and red feathers. These might be normal wildlife to most but they were a great sight to us as we’re from a busy town. It was a mini safari for townsfolk!

- Kayleigh Parker

We were mountainbiking through the Trossachs. On a long descent towards the road, six large red deer raced across in front and behind my friend Lynn. I slammed on the anchors and seconds later another six charged across where I would have been. They were truly majestic.

- Richard Blair

My wife and I were walking in the Forest of Dean, with nobody else in sight when a goshawk swooped over the path through the woods carrying a squirrel. My heart beats faster each time I think of it.

- Anthony Bell

One evening my 6ft husband came screaming downstairs. He’d been woken by loud fluttering, thinking it was a moth before realising it was a massive bat. He jumped out of bed, rushed out the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. He then heard the bat thud onto the floor and saw it creeping from under the door! We were so scared, so we shut ourselves downstairs sealing all the gaps around the door with brown parcel tape. We contacted the Bat Conservation Trust in Lincoln. A lady took the bat with her to release at a later date. It was a pipistrelle bat, they live in an unused farm building behind our house and fly over our grounds to get to the stream across the road. We were advised to keep our windows closed for a couple of hours from when the sun goes down. The thud was the bat falling to rebuild his strength and he was flying around my husband’s head to feed. Apparently we all have insects flying above our heads to keep warm from our heat loss, we just can’t see them.

- Andrea Hickling

I went into the garden to feed the birds and only a few metres from the house spotted a pheasant hen and her three chicks peeping out from under a bush. The mother quickly ran under a tree and the chicks all scuttled back under the bush. Several weeks later I saw three young pheasants in the area.

- Maureen Williams

Stanley the cat and Mimi the dog looked bemused when a white fluffy ferret turned up in the garden and started to munch on their dinner.

- Emma Heather

While walking along a watercourse outside York I saw two lapwings swooping and screeching ahead of me. They were diving and rising and clearly distressed. As I approached, I leaned over the undergrowth and saw ripples in the water. There, I saw two lapwing chicks drowning. I whipped off my boots and stepped into the water which luckily was only a foot deep. I cupped one of them in my hands and placed it on the grassy bank. The second one was getting further into deeper water and I thought that it would meet its end. As a last resort I got back in and leaned forward, cupping my hands. Amazingly the chick seemed to sense what I was doing, turned and desperately made its way towards me. It lunged into my hands and I lifted it out. I left the pair safe on the bank and moved quickly away as their parent birds flew down to them. I was absolutely elated.

- Paul Brown

I came face to face with the biggest fox I have ever seen on my driveway. He was easily the size of a collie dog, I am not sure who was more terrified. I stood still and he walked past and I made sure I did not make eye contact with him.

- Sally Collingwood

Last summer I was in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in France when I saw their cat looking into her dry, disused pond. I went out and saw a hedgehog had fallen in and was unable to get out! I grabbed a pair of gloves, picked it up and put it under the hedge so it could walk off into safety.

- Chris Maundrell

I woke up on one Sunday morning to find a muntjac deer grazing on my lawn in the middle of a housing estate.

- Cheryl Gardner

I took my dog for a walk through the woods and spotted a roe dear giving birth to a fawn. We watched quietly. Luckily Rocky, the Labrador, was well behaved. We stayed for a good 30 minutes then crept away.

- Carol Rawlings

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