Well, this time next week I’ll be winging my way to Cape Town via Auckland and Singapore (air transport is weird sometimes), so this is my last beat post of the year. As New Zealand’s beat writer I think I’ve done an okay job of discussing the birding of an entirely different island for most of the year, so it’s only fair that I keep that winning streak going by talking about my target for the trip. I actually have many targets, in a way, a I want to see lots and lots, but there is one species that the reason that the trip is even happening, the animal that has been pretty much the top of my animal bucket list for well over a decade. The African Wild Dog. It’s a species that has bedeviled and bewitched me over the years. I’ve come close, but I never got it. Now I get to work with it to try and save it.

Bucket lists are interesting things. When they aren’t being rather morbid (100 things to see – BEFORE YOU DIE!) I find them a moderately useful tool for sorting out my priorities. Like many people, my want to ____ lists are, generally, everything. I want to go pretty much everywhere, once. I pretty much want to see everything, probably more than once. Cave species obviously excluded, they can go extinct for all I care. So the bucket list is the top slots that signify the stuff I really really want to see. And they have been pretty stable for quite a while for me. Destination-wise my absolute top list hasn’t changed much since I dreamed it up since I haven’t made it to any of the places in it. They are Ecuador for the Galapagos, Gabon for the bais, Madagascar, New Guinea and New Caledonia for everything. Really, all that has changed is that the Pantanal in Brazil and Cocos Island in the Pacific have joined them.

My animal bucket list hasn’t changed much either, for similar reasons. I need to see some of these before I can replace them with other animals. The list kinds crystalized during my first big trip, on which I knocked off my two big targets (the manta ray and whale shark) but since then beyond seeing an antelope (and then many other different kinds), it hasn’t budged much at all.


This isn’t a target for this trip that I am aiming for, because this is a nemesis species for me. I have been to 11 countries to watch wildlife that this species lives in. I have stood NEXT to someone that saw it. I have never seen one, although I imagine one has seen me.

2007-kabini-leopardA Leopard in India by Yathin Krishnappa (CC)

Grey Wolf

Came close to this one too, but I never made it to Tofino when I was in Vancouver Island. If you’re spotting a pattern here, it’s because I was enchanted with a BBC documentary as a kid called The Velvet Claw, a natural history of the order Carnivora.

California Condor

My favourite animal as a kid. I came even closer to seeing this one, as a friend and I were all set to drive to Big Sur to watch a release. The car broke down a mile from home. Still haven’t seen one.


New Caldonia’s odd flightless heronish bird. Given that I live on a nearby island I should really make the time to go and visit. I imagine this will be the one that comes off next after the African Wild Dog.

A beaked whale

Any beaked whale. Given that they are a family of obscure deepwater whales that are very hard to see, I would imagine this is a contender for one that will never leave my list.

Hammerhead shark

Technically I have seen one of these, but it was the weird runty mangrove species the other hammerhead sharks don’t talk about (the Bonnethead). I want to dive in a huge shoal of these guys on some remote seamount. Is that so much to ask? Given the rate of overfishing, maybe.

1024px-Hammerhead_shark,_Cocos_Island,_Costa_RicaHammerhead shark by Barry Peters (CC)

Looking over my list, it seems I’m a fairly shallow wildlife watcher interested in spectacle. No drab LBJs on my list. Thinking about what might come next once I see some of these, I feel like the Okapi, one of the tapirs, or perhaps even a Clouded or Snow Leopard could make the list even less do-able. Certainly not many birds on that list, which is both odd and not. I’ve been trying to think why that might be. I think that the things I want to see are a combination of hard to see, large and relatively unique.

So, as I prepare to jet off, which animals are at the top of your wish/bucket list? And have a great Christmas, a fantastic New year, and see you in March!

Buller's albatross

I think I know what Corey wants for Christmas…. a Buller’s Albatross

Image of an African Wild Dog by Charles J Sharp (CC)

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.