Post updated: 07/03/2019

When you think of wildlife-spotting holidays, ocean cruises are more likely to spring to mind than river cruises. But destinations like Alaska and the Galapagos Islands aren’t the only places where you can spot unforgettable wildlife.

Here are five animals you could spot on your next river cruise.

1. Greater flamingo

Portrait of a greater flamingo standing in the waters of the Volga

Where would you expect to find flamingos? Africa, perhaps? Or Chile? Board a river cruise ship in Russia and you can spot these rosy birds on the Volga.

Lined with a mixture of mudflats and coquina banks, the Volga Delta provides flamingos with the perfect nesting habitat. In fact, so diverse is this part of the river that it has been protected since the 1900s, and is home to countless bird and fish species.

2. Hippo

A Nile hippo yawning and showing off its teeth

Hippos are commonly seen on Chobe river cruises through some of Southern Africa’s most spectacular landscapes, but did you know you could also spot them on the Nile?

Unfortunately, we don’t mean the Egyptian leg of the Nile. Though hippos did once roam here, they live on now only in stone carvings and faience sculptures, with modern-day populations found closer to Ethiopia.

3. Dolphin

An Irrawaddy river dolphin leaping through the water

Bernard DUPONT /, CC BY-SA 2.0

You don’t have to embark on a cruise to Australia or Iceland to see dolphins leaping through the water. A Yangtze river cruise could offer magical sightings of the highly intelligent (and highly endangered) Yangtze finless porpoise – a charming marine mammal that Chinese locals call the ‘river pig’ due to its missing dorsal fin.

Dolphins also live in the Irrawaddy, though the Irrawaddy dolphin is also critically endangered. Its gently smiling face is as irresistible as that of the Yangtze finless porpoise, and its intelligence has led it to team up with local fisherman for co-operative hunting that reaps rewards for both parties. The dolphins herd schools of fish towards the nets, signalling when it is time to cast into the water, and are rewarded with a share of the catch.

4. Crocodile

A Nile crocodile drifting through the water with only its eyes and nose visible

Unlike the Nile’s hippos, the Nile crocodile can actually be found in Egypt, though numbers are small. These huge reptiles have a fearsome reputation, but on a river cruise, you are more likely to see one basking on the bank than terrorising people or drifting almost invisibly through the water; just their eyes and the tip of their snout poking above the swell.

Prehistoric relics can also be found on Yangtze river cruises. This waterway houses the critically-endangered Chinese alligator, which hunts in the extensive lakes and marshlands of the middle-lower Yangtze.

5. Beaver

A Eurasian beaver standing on the banks of the Danube and sniffing the air

Reintroduced as recently as 1982, the Danube Delta’s Eurasian beaver population is slowly but most definitely growing. More than 1,000 beavers now live in the Danube-Auen National Park alongside dogfish, pond turtles and jewel-like kingfishers.

Nicknamed the ‘ecosystem engineer’, the Eurasian beaver unintentionally creates a mosaic of habitats as it builds its impressive dams and lodges. When it vacates, birds use the animal’s former home as a nesting site, while reptiles and amphibians move in to hide from predators.

What kind of wildlife have you spotted on your river cruises? Something we haven’t mentioned in our list? Tell us all about it using the comment box below.

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