In addition to the popular wildlife found in the renowned national parks of India and Nepal, there are other species that occupy lesser-known or more limited habitats of the Asian continent. We’re shining the spotlight on two of these species – Japanese snow monkeys and Asiatic lions – and showing you where and how you can see them…
Japanese Snow Monkeys
Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are characterful primates with shaggy coats and bright red faces. They occupy a variety of habitats and climates across Japan, however the macaque population that inhabits the valley of the Yokoyu River is the most famous, for their choice to take advantage of the natural hot springs and bathe in the warm waters.
Meaning ‘Hell’s Valley’, due to the geothermal steam and boiling water that bubbles from cracks in the ground, Jigokudani Monkey Park offers them a welcome warmth, as they congregate in big sociable groups, as well as an opportunity for the younger generations to play.
Our Japanese Winter Wonderland tour visits these snow monkeys. Titan Tour Manager Helen Young recently told us of her experience:
“We were the first Titan group lucky enough to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yudanaka, Nagano Prefecture, on the inaugural Japanese Winter Wonderland tour. To call it a Monkey Park implies some sort of zoo, but it is not that at all. It is a natural forest and the Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) are the native inhabitants – wild animals, free to roam. In winter they love to come down the mountains to bathe in the natural hot sulphur springs. There is only one man-made bath near the park entrance gate which can attract many monkeys at a time – like a big hot tub.
“We were lucky; so many monkeys were there on the day we visited. It’s a 30-minute walk to get there, but it’s a pleasant walk along a pathway through the forest. Good footwear is needed as there is almost certainly snow (snow monkeys – the clue is in the name), but everyone in my group, myself included, thought it was a worthwhile effort.
“The macaques are fascinating and amusing little characters and there were many babies too. They seemed unfazed by their human visitors and walked around us unconcerned. They seemed quite gregarious animals, especially in the bath where there was much socialising and mutual grooming. Most kept their heads dry, but there was one curious little chap who loved to dive and swim and got totally soaked. He would pop his head up every now and then for a scratch and what looked amusingly as if he were adjusting a wet wig. It was so good to watch their expressive little faces, so human in many ways. You can see how we share so much DNA at times like this.
“It was easy to take photos and film of them, especially around the bath area and on the ground where they play and interact with each other. It was quite hard to drag ourselves away when it was time to leave for our lovely hotel – waiting for us at the end of the 30-minute walk, with hot drinks at the ready. An unforgettable experience for us all.”
Where to see Japanese snow monkeys
Visit Jigokudani Monkey Park on our Japanese Winter Wonderland tour. This 12-day itinerary includes stays in Tokyo and Kyoto, a night in a traditional ryokan, and time at the famous Sapporo Snow Festival.
In the Indian state of Gujarat is Sasan-Gir National Park. It’s the only place in the world besides Africa where lions can be seen in the wild, making it one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
Whilst related to the African lion, these magnificent creatures are Asiatic lions, with subtle differences in their appearance. Generally smaller than their African counterparts, Asiatic lions also have thicker elbow tufts and longer tail tufts, a longitudinal fold of skin that runs along the belly and shorter and sparser manes in the males.
Sprawling over 1,424 square kilometres, Sasan-Gir has a luxuriantly rich ecosystem, bedecked with flora and fauna. Aside from lions, there are 30 species of mammal, 20 species of reptile and innumerable species of insects and birds to be found in Sasan-Gir National Park, including the leopard, sambar deer, chital spotted deer, nilgai antelope, the unique four-horned chowsingha, chinkara gazelle, wild boar, langur monkey, jackal and hyena. Special birds to look out for here are paradise flycatcher, bonneli’s eagle, crested serpent eagle, flamingo, crested hawk eagle, brown fish owl, king vulture, jungle quail, pygmy woodpecker and hard headed oriole.
Where to see Asiatic lions
You can add a three-night stay at the eco-friendly Lion Safari Camp in Sasan-Gir to our Wild India tour, a 12-day adventure across national parks and wildlife reserves.
Find out more about our wildlife tours in our Walk on the Wild Side online guide.