19 Perfect Stories About Meeting Animals While Traveling
Earlier this year, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us stories about the most memorable strangers they've met while traveling. We received some truly magical tales of human connection, but immediately realized we'd neglected the similarly miraculous experience of spontaneous animal connection! In order to correct that gross oversight, we put out a call for stories about the greatest animals you've encountered on the road. Once again, the results were nothing less than... adorable.
Among the hundreds of responses we received, there were tales of sleepy cats, overly friendly boars, kissing primates, pretty ponies, and even one termite-hungry cobra. Oh, and lots and lots of VGBs (Very Good Boys). Each encounter you told us about spoke to the incredible ways animals can influence our personal adventures. Even better, you sent pics.
Take a look at some of our favorite submissions below, and head over to our new forums to share your own story of incredible animals met while traveling!
Yellowstone National Park
“We were on a motorcycle road trip a few years back, and went through parts of Yellowstone on the way home. We had several bison encounters over the course of the trip, but this was the most memorable. It had caused a large traffic jam (and not just because of the rubbernecking, for good chunks of time it was just blocking the entire road so no one could get by). You don't fully appreciate their size until you are just a few feet from one on the back of a motorcycle!” — Megan Riker
Mount Ida, Arkansas
“We were mountain biking on the Ouachita Trail, and Bowser was the resident dog at the cabin we stayed at. Each day he would run behind us on the trail, stop with us and always wait to be last in line. He would find water in puddles and creeks to drink, and we shared our trail snacks with him. He ran over 40 miles with us one day, never complaining. [...] What a great dog.” — Adam, Austin, Texas
“Last October, I spent two weeks in Ireland and my group and I spent an afternoon at the Guillamene swimming cove in Co. Waterford. We encountered several dogs that day, running up and down the hill and wandering, but my favorite was Chieftain. A 7-year-old Irish Wolf Hound, he was absolutely majestic while we sat next to the sea. When you pet him he was oily and scruffy (in a nice way I assure you) and he seemed to enjoy the attention. A gruff Irish woman handed me his leash while she smoked a cigarette, and told us about how he had his own loveseat at home. It was absolutely perfect.” — Rachel Sandoffsky , Seattle, Washington
“In 2012, I had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological excavation at the French Paleolithic site of La Ferrassie, as part of research being conducted regarding Neanderthal skeletons that had been discovered there during the early 20th century. The crew encamped on the grounds of a house in the nearby town of Carsac-Aillac. A local dog named Gary, who belonged to a person who lived in Carsac-Aillac, would visit us on a daily basis. He was very friendly and would often hang out with us after we returned from the excavations, and I always remembered him very fondly. I was very pleasantly surprised years later when I found out that Gary had been mentioned in a popular science book, Cafe Neandertal by Beebe Bahrami, that was published on the subject of the research done at that site.” — Pat, U.S.A.
"I went on a month-long study abroad trip to Italy last summer, and one of the places my group visited was Orvieto. It was a gorgeous town with loads of history and culture, but my favorite part of that day was the cat I met at a scenic view point on the edge of the town. Stray cats are everywhere in Italy (they have a great spay and neuter program) but this little tabby was exceptionally sweet. While sitting on a wall admiring the view, this little cat strolled right up to me and hopped into my lap and remained there for most of the next hour. By the time I had to (regrettably) leave, my legs had fallen asleep so badly that I couldn't walk right for a few minutes. Anyone who has a cat knows you don't move when they're comfy! I experienced and saw a lot of amazing things on that trip, but that little cat, whom I dubbed ‘Orvie,’ made a special memory for me that still makes me smile to think about." — Leah Bartlett, Kansas
Bako National Park, Borneo
“I was walking along the beach in Bako after a day of hiking the trails. Very far down the other end of the beach I saw a shadow of an animal. I walked towards it, my curiosity piqued by all the wildlife I had seen that day. As I got closer, I saw it was a cute little bearded pig. I approached slowly from a distance. My only knowledge of wild pigs comes from Lord of the Flies. As I got closer, he didn’t run away (or towards me) but continued on his leisurely stroll. I finally got up to him and walked with him for awhile. He was digging for crabs and when he couldn’t find any he looked at me and wagged his tail, maybe hoping for a snack. I quietly pulled out my phone to take a few shots of this wild exotic animal who had the demeanor of a puppy. After a few pictures we continued strolling until my family who had been looking for me saw me but not my little friend, yelled in greeting. My little buddy, now named 'Babi,' gave me a little look and then disappeared into the brush at the sand’s edge.” — Debbey, New Hampshire
“In the forest with a guide, a lemur or ‘indri indri’ came down from his tree to take some leaves we picked, he then slowly reached for them, gently touching my hand and took the leaves, my heart stopped beating. It’s something I will never forget, coming from a wild animal in the middle of a dense forest.” — Emma, France
Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“I was working as a contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, DRC for about three weeks. The staff arranged for my team to visit the Lola Ya Bonobo reserve in the rainforest. We were given a tour and at the end, we entered a clearing where foster mothers, women from the local community, were watching baby bonobos play. After playing with a few of them, which was just like playing with my nephews when they were little (but without the tantrums and crying), I sat down next to one of the foster mothers to watch the play group. On her lap was a tiny, malnourished baby bonobo. After a few minutes, this baby reached out and gently tapped my arm. When I turned to look at him, he leaned in for a kiss! How could I say no? We played ‘kiss’ for several minutes. I still can't believe I got to experience this." — Dawn Lester, Washington, D.C.
'Simon' the Pripyat Fox
“We got to meet Simon, the fox who lives in the exclusion zone of Pripyat near Chernobyl. He came up to us and ate food we left out for him.” — Lauren Johnson, Albany, Western Australia
“We followed the signs to see a castle off the beaten path and when we pulled up, there was a pony just standing outside of it to the left. It was so majestic up there. We walked up to the castle and when we got to the top of the hill, we discovered it was actually perched on a cliff above the ocean! Pony, castle, and ocean, all in one spot. It was magical! Then as we came out of the castle to go back to the car, the pony walked up to us and let me pet him.” — Tawnya Carlson, Orlando, Florida
"While visiting Ireland with friends in 2004, we stopped for lunch at a pub in Glenbeigh, on the Ring of Kerry. One of my friends went walking outside, and came back in to report a donkey outside. I've always been a huge donkey fan, so I asked if it was friendly and he said it was. It was in a neighbor's fenced-in yard. I immediately went out to see ‘him,’ and started petting him a little. He really responded, so I continued to pet him. He would bump my hand with his head like a dog when he wanted more attention. Soon, a donkey friend came up and he wanted attention too. Eventually, I had to tear myself away… but I could have stayed all day with those two sweet donkeys. It's a memory I'll always cherish!” — Kim E. Dolce, Florida
Outside Nara, Japan
“While staying overnight at the Gyokuzoin temple near Nara, I wandered across a black cat while on my pre-onsen walk through the tori gates and shrines. When I stepped down to pet her, she hopped right onto my lap. It was late April, and the ground wasn't quite as warm as a human person, so she settled in for the duration. My boyfriend kept going on his walk through the extensive, meandering temple grounds and I stayed, hovering over my ankles with the cat on my lap, shifting every so often as my feet started to go numb and eventually sitting down entirely. Every shift I made, the cat would shift in turn to stay perched on my lap and in prime position for petting. The cat was temporarily christened, 'Nekko cat.'” — Nora Rawn, New York City, New York
Kaymoor, West Virginia
"In March, 2008, my two children (ages 11 and 13) and I were exploring the area around the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We parked our car near a campground at the trailhead leading down into the Kaymoor coal mine. As we approached the trailhead, a small brown, black, and white beagle trotted over to meet us. She walked around us as if she knew us, not really interested in our direct attention, but ready to lead us on an adventure. As we headed down the trail into the mine, this small dog lead the way. When we stopped, she stopped, and when we got going again she was right there, leading the way. She took us all the way down into the mine area and down an extended walkway of stairs and stayed close by with us the entire time. When it was time to go, she lead us all the way back up to the top, then trotted away when we returned to our car. We enjoyed being this dog’s adopted owners for an afternoon.” — Pete Norloff, Oakton, Virginia
Island de la Juventud, Cuba
“This tame pelican is waiting for ships landing on the island. As soon as the passengers arrive, he arrives to greet them!” — Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Vitouch, Vienna, Austria
"I was trekking around Romania and found myself deep in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, and my mind had already conjured up all sorts of monsters. One day, walking down a mountain road, smothered thick in early morning fog, I saw a huge shadow materialize in front of me and my blood turned to ice. Even discounting the obvious possibility of werewolves, the thought ran through my mind of real-life wolves and I froze in place as the fog swirled in small, terrifying eddies. As the menacing figure drew closer I saw that it was a huge wolfhound, luckily wagging its tail as it approached. This boy simply wanted my company and he followed beside me for most of that morning. I suppose the bag of dog treats in my pack helped a little, and when I eventually stopped, we shared a small meal. Then he disappeared back into the woods. I will never forget that wandering Transylvanian spirit. He was a good boy." — Benjamin Thomas, New York
Unnamed Sea Lion
“While snorkeling near the island of Fernandina we were ‘punked’ by three teenage sea lions. We came to realize that they viewed us as their pool toys and they swam under and around us, jumped over us and bared their teeth, only to flip and swim away. They should be called sea dogs because all they wanted to do was play. We were not allowed to touch them, but they would nudge us in an effort to get us to respond. They seemed to get more excited if you got startled, laughed, or they could get you to surface.” — Nicole, New Orleans, Louisiana
Unnamed Irish Pony
“While on a bus tour, I first met a grey Connemara pony, who wouldn’t let anyone pet him except me. Moments later, a Border Collie puppy appeared from a local’s home and jumped around me until I gave him tummy rubs. As I started walking back to the bus, I looked behind me to see the puppy and pony following me! The pony couldn’t proceed too far (stone fencing kept us apart), but the puppy wound up on the bus with me (the driver returned him to the field)! The whole experience was the closest I’ve had to feeling like a Disney Princess.” — Bridget, San Diego, California
'Jimmy the Jungle Dog'
The Rajaji Jungle, India
"During a school trip to India, our group was scheduled to do home stays in an illegal jungle village at the edge of the Rajaji jungle. But the girls and I were mistakenly put in a separate village from the boys the first day. My host family had a young dog in training to be their guard dog. He was skinny and timid, chained up in the hot gravel yard without water, covered in dust and ticks, and no one was nice to him. I could tell he was going to have a terrible life, and my heart ached for him. Since I had lost my husband to cancer just three months prior, the sadness at seeing this dog attached to that greater sadness. When we left the village the next day, I could not stop thinking about Jimmy, the jungle dog. My heart ached for him, I just couldn't shake it. Upon arriving home, I decided I would try to get Jimmy to America. I asked one of the travel arrangers to call the family who owned him, and ask if I could buy their dog. They were happy to sell him. Next he needed a rabies shot, and 30 days, before being able to travel. Long story short, three months after I had met Jimmy, I returned to India to pick him up. When I was being driven to the village it struck me that I had only met him for a total of a couple of hours, and that was three months ago. Only now did it dawn on me that he might not remember me, or trust me. As we drove into the village and I walked into the yard, I saw him. His back was turned to me, and he had grown quite a bit since our last meeting. With some trepidation I called his name, ‘Jimmy?’ He spun around, and ears back, mouth smiling, tail wagging, he ran towards me and threw himself on the ground so that I could scratch his belly. He was overjoyed, and so was I. His new life was a big transition for both of us at first, since he had never been in a car, or a house, and was afraid of men, afraid of sticks (the men would beat him with sticks), afraid of dogs, and only ate Indian food. Jimmy has been my dog now for six years, and not a day goes by without me loving Jimmy." — Monika Andersson, Concord, Massachusetts
Unnamed Forest Cobra
“I saw something odd while out on a solo walk in the bush that kinda looked like a hose or a pipe. Going over to investigate, I saw that it had scales. It was a snake! I ducked under a thorny acacia tree to get closer to it; I closed to within 4 meters of it to watch and take photographs. It still looked odd, though; I soon realized its head was buried inside a termite mound! Eventually, it slowly pulled its head out of the mound. It didn’t seem alarmed or concerned in any way, as its movements were very slow. It looked around, it looked at me, it ‘tasted’ the air with its tongue. It put its head back into the mound to continue eating the termites. I waited for it to emerge again, which it did a few minutes later. It still was calm and relaxed but it did somewhat raise its head and expand its cowl into that famous cobra shape. When it put its head back into the mound a third time, I decided to leave it be and take my leave. As I was slowly backing out from under the acacia tree, my shirt got caught on a thorn. I had to turn my head to free my clothing from where it was caught. Doing so only took me 2 seconds, at most but when I turned my head back towards the snake, where I had left it with its head buried inside a hole in the ground, it was gone! I had a pretty good field field of vision all around the area where the snake was but there was no sign of it anywhere! How something that big—the snake had to have been close to 15’ long—could have completely disappeared in just a couple of seconds was remarkable! It also made me realize the 4 meters of buffer zone I left between it and myself wouldn’t have been anywhere near sufficient had it decided it didn’t like my being there photographing it. Lesson learned!” — Rob Gayman, Hood River, Oregon