Cuddles with killers, if you dare

Why let a fence get between you and some of the world's fiercest creatures, writes David Whitley.

For some wildlife lovers, peering into a zoo enclosure or enjoying a safari from the safety of a vehicle isn't good enough. Where is the thrill in seeing potentially dangerous creatures from a safe distance? For the truly brave, there are opportunities to get unnervingly close to big beasts that can kill just as easily as cuddle. Yes, cuddle. Here's where to find them.

Pat a cheetah

Stellenbosch, South Africa

As gimmicks for a winery go, having an on-site cheetah outreach program is up there. The Spier Winery near Cape Town has one hectare set aside to help preserve the world's fastest land animal.

Staff are careful to ensure you approach the cheetah only from a certain angle and that it is calm. You still get to pose for a photo that makes you look like a fearless explorer, however. See

Dive with great whites

Farallon Islands, California, US

It's possible to go cage-diving elsewhere - including in South Australia - but some of the biggest sharks are off the Californian coast.


For about eight weeks of the year, great whites make their way to the Farallon Islands to breed and give birth.

The islands are 42 kilometres off the coast of San Francisco and, between September and November, humans willing to go under water in a cage and face the sharks are in for a real thrill.

A one-day cage dive, departing from Emeryville, California, costs $US775 ($860). See

Stroke a crocodile

Kachikally Crocodile Pool, Gambia

This pool contains supposedly sacred water. Going in for a swim, however, would be a bad idea. The pool teems with Nile crocodiles.

Legend has it a witch put a spell on the crocs to prove the pool was special but, in fact, you can stroke one of them and the others won't pounce on you while you're doing so.

Volunteering for this is unnerving enough but seeing other reptilian faces staring at you from close quarters while you do so is terrifying.

Canoe with hippos

The Zambezi River, Zambia-Zimbabwe

Of course, for crocodile watchers, the Zambezi has more than its share waiting on the banks. But for those sailing downstream, it's the hippos that provide the biggest scares. They are notoriously grumpy and regularly upturn boats. Hippos have big teeth and aren't averse to taking a leg off a stray kayaker, so when attempting to canoe down the Zambezi, a knowledgeable guide is essential.

The Zambezi Safari and Travel Company hosts canoeing tours. See

Swim with stingrays

Antigua, Caribbean

The chaps at Stingray City Antigua insist stingrays aren't dangerous. Their snorkelling tour takes visitors out to a shallow pool in the Caribbean Sea, where the stingrays are accustomed to having contact with humans.

The guides demonstrate how best to approach the rays - from the front, unsurprisingly - and, once briefed, snorkellers can wrap their arms around the rays. See

Feed bears and tigers


The National Zoo has a "Zooventure" tour where participants get to stand outside the cage of a 110-kilogram Sumatran tiger, holding out a piece of meat for it to take from the hand.

You can also enter the den of the brown bears, which lick honey from your hand. Having a python slither over you is one of the tamer elements of the two-hour, $95 tour. See

Track gorillas

Bwindi National Park, Uganda

If a silverback gorilla is charging you, it pays to remember your guide's advice: get low, act submissive, quickly, and you should be safe. The problem is not knowing where the gorillas are.

Guides in the Bwindi National Park track gorillas by following footprints and tree damage. The moment you first see the big apes is magical - even when they get a bit close for comfort.

British-based Gorilla Tracking Uganda organises a four-night Gorilla Safari priced from £1550 ($2500). See

Ride a lion

Lujan Zoo, Argentina

Brave or irresponsible, this zoo allows visitors to get disturbingly close to big cats.

Intrepid guests can get into cages to stroke rather large tigers or sit on a lion. It's telling that the zookeepers advise visitors that these activities are undertaken at their own risk. See