BEST MAMMALS OF THE WORLD
choices 1–10
#
Species
[range]
Photo/art [see credits]
all photos taken in wild unless stated
Reason for choice
DR seen?
1
Tiger
Panthera tigris
[Asia]
The most spectacular terrestrial predator on earth, tigers are the stuff of nightmares and then dreams. As a kid I devoured Corbett's stories; now tigers are seriously endangered, with perhaps only 2000 left. Seeing a wild tiger is the epitome of wildlife adventure. So beautiful, so deadly — and to get photos . . . priceless.
Yes
2
Gorilla
Gorilla gorilla
[c. Africa]
Nothing says the African rainforest like the powerful yet gentle Gorilla. The experience of observing a wild gorilla ranks among the best things life has to offer. My chest-thumping encounter with a lowland Gorilla in Gabon was heart-racing; spending an hour with mountain Gorillas in Uganda was awe-inspiring.
Yes
3
Snow Leopard
Panthera uncia
[c. Asia]
It seems next to impossible to see a Snow Leopard, let alone take a photo like Vladimir Dinets did in a snowstorm high in the mountains of Tibet! Stunning but almost invisible in its beautiful coat, even researchers go years without seeing one. I never will... but one can dream.
No
4
Orangutan
Pongo pygmaeus
[Borneo & Sumatra]
The great red ape of wild lowland forest in Borneo & Sumatra lives mostly in the canopy in troops with huge impressive males (who make incredible sounds) and engaging youngsters; they almost must be seen to be believed. Orangutans (pronounced oh-ron-oo-tan, not the way you have heard it) are high points of any visit.
Yes
5
Giant Panda
Ailuropoda melanoleuca
[China]
Another "almost impossible" beast in the remote mountains of interior China, its image has been adopted as a symbol for the world's threatened wildlife. Shy, elusive, and living on bamboo, only recently has eco-tourism developed a method of (maybe) seeing one [see Jon Hall's web page for Qingling Mts.].
No
6
Jaguar
Panthera onca
[Mexico to s. South America]
The great top predator of Neotropical forests, Jaguars are incredibly elusive. I'd seen tracks, fresh scat, a recently hit carcass on a Venezuelan road, and heard a male calling nearby, before my lucky day came when I was face to face with a big male (photo). An indelible experience.
Yes
7
Polar Bear
Ursus maritimus
[Arctic]
King of its icy realm, the Polar Bear in the undisputed top predator in the Arctic. They live on the ice in summer, feeding on seals, until drawn to shore in autumn. Experiencing the huge white bear on the Arctic icepack is very memorable, but global warming is causing concerns for future declines.
Yes
8
any Orca
[Killer Whale]
Orca orcinus +
[oceans]
From pole to the Equator, this marine predator may have the widest range of any non-human mammal on earth. It is everywhere incredibly impressive – huge, fast, beautiful & deadly. Some migratory pods feed on large baleen whales, but others feast on salmon or seals; all have impressive social systems. More than one species may be involved.
Yes
9
Black Rhinoceros
Diceros bicornis
[east & south Africa]
This unpredictable vegetarian is rare and local. Both it and White Rhino Ceratotherium simum were nearly poached to extinction, but White is a placid grazer while Black is an aggressive browser. White has been reintroduced widely but Black Rhino exists only in a few pockets.
Yes
10
Blue Whale
Balaenoptera musculus
[oceans]
The largest mammal ever to have lived, this pelagic giant was rapidly going extinct a few decades ago before a whaling ban finally was instituted. It is now coming back in replenished numbers and is often regular in late summer in Monterey Bay. It is always an extremely impressive sight.
Yes

Links to all of the "top 50":

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RESOURCES & CREDITS

FURTHER READING:
This is not an exhaustive bibliography but rather a personal choices of books, mostly in the popular literature genre, but all fact-based and well-written:

* For Tiger: Jim Corbett's (1946) Man-Eaters of Kumaon is the author's adventures in tracking down man-eating tigers (and a few leopards) in the 1920s & 1930s. Corbett was a hunter turning conservationist, and his intimate knowledge of the Indian forest shines through t adventure stories. His appreciation for tigers is immense; today, Corbett National Park – one of the best tiger reserves – is named for him. I also absolutely rave about Richard Ives' (1996) Of Tigers and Men: Entering the Age of Extinction, the story of his own experiences in trying to see tigers while running into the famous and infamous in the tiger field. Birders will especially enjoy his portrait of a recluse birder he meets on Sumatra; just a fascinating book from beginning to end. For life history material, Valmik Thapar's various books are great; I particularly enjoyed the text and photos in Tiger: Portrait of a Predator (1999). The frontispiece photo is the equivalent of a Robert Bateman painting on film. Finally, Peter Matthiessen's (2000) Tigers in the Snow combines rich text with Maurice Hornocker's stunning photos of Siberian tigers.

* For Gorilla: Obviously, Dian Fossey's (1983) Gorillas in the Mist brought the plight of the Mountain Gorillas to the world, but it was George Schaller's research in The Mountain Gorilla: Behavior and Ecology (1963) and The Year of the Gorilla (1964) the did the foundational work.

* For Snow Leopard: Peter Matthiessen's (1978) The Snow Leopard was a fascinating metaphysical musing while in a prolonged search (unsuccessful) to see a Snow Leopard, with much of interest about the habitat. I most enjoyed the research work in remote Nepal , along with the many problems that were entailed, described in Darla Hillard's (1989) Vanishing Tracks: Four Years among the Snow Leopards of Nepal.

* For Orangutan: there are several books on research or ruminations about Orangutans relationship to Man, but I most enjoyed John MacKinnon's (1974) In Search of the Red Ape on his field observations in Borneo.

* For Giant Panda: George B. Schaller's (1993) The Last Panda is the classic.

* For Jaguar: True appreciation for this great cat is achieved in reading about man's struggle to establish the world's first Jaguar preserve (in Belize) in Alan Rabinowitz' (1986) Jaguar.

* For Polar Bear: I have read rather little on this subject, but Norbert Rosing's (1994) photo book The World of the Polar Bear has some great shots, and gives a good introduction to the 'scene' at Churchill on Hudson Bay in the fall.

* For Orca: I've been tangentially involved (i.e., contributed photos) to the growing Orca photo catalog project by Nancy Black, Richard Ternullo and others, so I've mostly been interested in research papers. Some of these are cited at the bottom of my Monterey Bay rare cetaceans page. Some well-researched popular accounts of natural history are Gerard Gormley's (1990) Orcas of the Gulf [without photos; about Gulf of Maine population] and Peter Knudtson's (1996) Orca: Vision of the Killer Whale [with many photos; about Puget Sound population].

* For Black Rhino: very entertaining first person stories about research on Black Rhino in the Namibian deserts is in Carol Cunningham & Joel Berger's (1997) Horn of Darkness: Rhinos on the Edge. They showed, despite many obstacles, that the controversial 'environmental' practice of dehorning rhinos (to save them from poachers) didn't work for ecological reasons (mother rhinos need horns to protect young from hyenas).

* For Blue Whale: I haven't read anything wonderful yet about Blue Whales, although I do like the art in Richard Ellis's (1980) The Book of Whales.

CREDITS:
All the photographs are copyrighted by the photographer (as detailed below) and are used with permission; all rights are reserved to the photographer

* Vladimir Dinets photographed Snow Leopard (Tibet)
* Jon Hornbuckle photographed Mountain Gorilla (Rwanda)
* Mr. Zhang, Jon Hall's guide in Qingling Mts., photographed Giant Panda (China)
* Don Roberson photographed Tiger (India), Orangutan (Sumatra, Indonesia), Jaguar (Brazil), Polar Bear (Svalbard), Black Rhinoceros (Namibia), and Orca & Blue Whale (both Monterey Bay, California, U.S.A.)

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Page created 1-6 June 2002, updated 20 Aug 2002, revised 21 July 2013
all photos & text © 2010 Don Roberson
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