choices 41–50
Photo/art [see credits]
all photos taken in wild unless stated
Reason for choice
DR seen?
Brown Bear [Grizzly Bear]
Ursus arctos
[n. Holarctic]
Although its range is widespread throughout northern forests, Brown Bear – and especially Grizzly Bear U.a. horribilis of North America (left) – is a prized and wondrous beast. Watching them catch fish during wild salmon runs was a wildlife spectacle to remember forever.
Puma [Cougar or Mountain Lion]
Felis concolor
[New World]
Widespread across North & South America, this is a "ghost cat." I live where it is common, and still have not seen one. Some say this cat is "too common" for this list but it is the epitome of New World wilderness. Seeing this large cat would require a great deal of luck, as puma is quite shy and elusve.
Odobenus rosmarus
[Arctic oceans]
Giant tusks on the world's largest seal make the Walrus unique and impressive. Packs live on remote ice flows in the Arctic. Populations were over-hunted for ivory for decades but are now making recoveries. Walrus can dive to 350' and forage for mollusks (but not with the tusks!).
Ornithorhynchus anatinus
The Platypus is not very large but it is very, very strange. Males have a poison spur on the hind leg. It is aquatic and lives in burrows, coming out to forage at night. The marsupial adaptations in Australia are impressive, but this Monotreme is downright weird.
Bongo Tragelaphus eurycerus
[central Africa]
The Bongo is a shy, retiring forest antelope in central Africa with an exceptionally beautiful pelage. Historically found in three fragmented areas, it is declining everywhere. It used to be regular at some mountain lodges in Kenya, but those days are gone.
Spectacled Bear
Tremarctos ornatus
[Andes of South America]
Sometimes called "Andean Bear," this is the only native bear in South America. It is probably the world's most endangered bear. This shy, boldly-patterned bear, named for the buff ring around each eye, is very difficult to see in Andean foothills or adjacent rain forest.
Babyrousa babyrussa
This large wild pig of tropical forests in Sulawesi and surrounding islands is rare and elusive. The male's upper tusks emerge through holes in the snout and curve back toward the forehead, producing a totally unique look. Video in David Attenborough's Life of Mammals is very impressive — it would be a treat to see it in the wild.


48 Sperm Whale
Physeter macrocephalus
The largest toothed whale, it ranges the deep oceans, diving for up to an hour (recorded down to 8200' depths!). Numbers declined seriously during whaling but it is still widespread. You generally must get out over the deep ocean and then get lucky to see it. Yes
any Mesoplodon beaked whale
Mesoplodon sp.
Among 20+ species in family Ziphiidae (beaked whales), 15 are in genus Mesoplodon. Although widespread, they are very difficult to see due to their off-shore habitat and deep-diving behavior. Considered near-mythical by sea-going wildlife watchers, any observation is highly prized. Other ziiphids are also very cool.
Yes; 2 of 15
Sable Antelope
Hippotragus niger
[e. & s. Africa]
This might be the most impressive of all antelope. It is found in some parks in east & southern Africa without huge effort, but at others (e.g., Kruger NP) it can be elusive. I've wanted to see it ever since staring at natural history dioramas with stuffed Sables in San Francisco & New York as a kid. So this is a personal choice; some "close contenders" are rarer or more difficult.
any rare bat or
impressive bat
Of 1100+ bat species (20% of all mammals), many are local or endangered (e.g, the tiny Bumblebee (Kitti's Hognose) Bat Craseonycteris thonglongyai of Thailand/Burma). Seeing any rare bat is exciting, and especially those with big ears or odd faces. Mine was Townsend's Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus townsendii (left).
Yes; 1 rarity


Narwhal Monodon monoceros
[Arctic oceans]
any Solendon Solendon cubanus/paradoxus
[Cuba, Hispaniola]
Brown Hyena
Hyena brunnea
[s. Africa]

any Lion-Tamarin
Leontopitheus sp.
[coastal Brazil]
Golden L. rosalia (right), Golden-headed L. chrysomelas, Black L. chrysopygus, Superagui L. caissara.

Golden-rumped Elephant-Shrew Rhynchocyon chrysopygus
[coastal Kenya]
Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus
[south Asia]

Links to all of the "top 50":



This is not an exhaustive bibliography but rather personal choices of books, mostly in the popular literature genre, but all fact-based and well-written. I do not have favorite literature for all species, but for these see:

* For Sable Antelope: John Frederick Walker's (2002) A Certain Curve of Horn: The Hundred-Year Quest for the Giant Sable Antelope of Angola is an outstanding read. It focuses on the incredible history of the endangered variani subspecies of these regal beasts: the giant sable antelope of Angola, a majestic, coal-black quadruped with breathtaking curved horns over five feet long. to quote one review: "It is an enthralling and tragic tale of exploration and adventure, politics and war, the brutal realities of life in Africa today and the bitter choices of conflicting conservation strategies." Well said, and the review didn't even mention the tangled world of taxonomy and scientific rivalry. All wrapped in one story of one impressive antelope.

* For Sperm Whale: Herman Melville's classic American novel Moby Dick (1851) is about a giant white Sperm Whale. More realistic are the art and thoughtful text in Richard Ellis' (1980) The Book of Whales, and I also very much appreciate Ellis' work on a major prey item, the Giant Squid, in his The Search for the Giant Squid (1998).

* For Brown Hyena: I really enjoyed the stories of Brown Hyena research in Botswana in Mark & Delia Owens' (1984) Cry of the Kalahari: Seven Years in Africa's Last Great Wilderness. Mark Owens' project was on lions but Delia Owens was working on the elusive and little known Brown Hyena, and added much to our knowledge of it.

All artworks are copyrighted by the artist (as detailed below) and are either used with permission or are posted here in reliance on the non-commercial "fair use" doctrine; all rights are reserved by the artist

* Patricia Barrett painted Ginko-toothed Beaked-Whale Mesoplodon ginkgodens (from MacDonald's 1984 Encyclopedia of Mammals)
* Fiona Reid painted Spectacled Bear (from Eisenberg's 1989 Mammals of the Neotropics, Vol. 1)
* Rowland Ward sketched the head of Babirusa
* Francois Feer painted Golden Lion-Tamarin (from Emmon's 1990 Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide

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

* Hans & Judy Beste photographed Platypus (Australia)
* Bill Hubick photographed Puma in California (USA)
* Jeri M. Langham photographed the Sperm Whale (off California, U.S.A.)
* Don Roberson photographed Brown Bear (Alaska), Walrus (Svalbard), Sable Antelope (Namibia), and Townsend's Big-eared Bat (California)
* photo of Brown Hyena is from Wikipedia (uncredited), and may be in captivity

Page created 1-6 June 2002, updated 20 Aug 2002, revised 7 Dec 2014, 18 Feb 2021 & 24 Oct 2021
some photos & all text © Don Roberson