Travelling in search of wildlife might, by its very nature, seem like a dangerous undertaking. Most wild animals, however, do their utmost to avoid human contact and will only attack people if they feel threatened. There are a few exceptions – polar bears, for example, are formidable predators and pose a real danger when they come into contact with human settlements, while crocodiles are opportunistic ambush hunters more than capable of snatching people who approach within range. Understand what’s out there and take heed of your guide’s advice and you should remain perfectly safe. Far more serious are the potentially fatal diseases transmitted by biting insects and contaminated water. As well as taking precautions against contracting these, you should also be aware of the dangers posed by extreme cold and heat, intense sun and high altitude.

Altitude Sickness

Climb to altitudes of 3,000m and above too quickly and you may start to develop early symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) such as headache, nausea and disorientation. Ignore these warning signs and push on higher and you may develop a life-threatening pulmonary or cerebral oedema. Always build acclimatisation days into your schedule, climb slowly and drink plenty of fluids. The best cure for AMS is to descend as quickly as possible, rather than resorting to drugs such as diamox. Seek urgent medical help if symptoms persist.

Bites: Insects

In addition to malaria, diseases spread by biting insects include dengue fever (mosquito), leishmaniasis (sandfly), river blindness (blackfly), sleeping sickness (tsetse fly) and tick-borne encephalitis. Try to avoid being bitten by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers pretreated with insect repellent and always sleep under a mosquito net in malaria zones. Apply repellents to exposed skin, particularly between dusk and dawn when many mosquitoes are active. Avoid wearing blue or black clothing which can attract tsetse flies, and tuck trousers into socks (or wear gaiters) when walking through grassy areas that may be infested with ticks.

Bites: Snakes

In the event of a venomous snake bite try to keep the victim calm – panic increases the heartbeat which will spread venom around the body more quickly. Clean and bandage the wound and lay the casualty down with the injury below heart level. Do not cut the wound, try to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet. If possible, take a photograph of the snake responsible for the bite – this will help medical experts administer the correct anti-venom.

Bites: Others

Clean the wound thoroughly, apply a sterile dressing (adding pressure to stop blood flow if necessary), bandage securely and keep the injury above heart level. Rabies and tetanus vaccinations may be required – if in doubt, seek medical advice.


Clean and dress even minor cuts to avoid infection. Use sterile tweezers to remove small foreign bodies, like thorns, but never attempt to dislodge large or deeply embedded objects. For severe external bleeding, perform ABC if necessary, press a clean dressing to the wound and apply pressure to stop blood flow. Bandage firmly but not too tightly. Monitor patient until medical help arrives.


Bursting a blister increases the risk of infection, so leave it intact, clean thoroughly and apply blister pad. Burns and scalds Flood the injury with cold water for at least 10 minutes to relieve pain, then cover with a nonadhesive dressing and bandage. Do not apply creams or ointments. Prevent infection by wrapping a clean polythene bag around the damaged skin.

Burns & Scalds

Flood the injury with cold water for at least 10 minutes to relieve pain, then cover with a non-adhesive dressing and bandage. Do not apply creams or ointments. Prevent infection by wrapping a clean polythene bag around the damaged skin.


Well before departure, seek medical advice on which vaccinations you may require for the areas you’re visiting.

Click here for a table of disease symptoms, causes, prevention and vaccines.

Diarrhoea & Vomiting

Ward off dehydration by encouraging the patient to drink plenty of fluids, including rehydration solutions.

Eye Injury

Wash out foreign bodies with plenty of clean water or a moist swab, but never try to remove an object that has penetrated or adhered to the eyeball. In this situation, lay the casualty down, lightly bandage a dressing pad over the eye to protect it and seek medical help.


Immobilise the fracture and the joints above and below with a sling, splint or padding. Treat for shock and monitor patient until help arrives.


First, treat for symptoms of hypothermia. Remove gloves or socks and boots carefully. Warm affected areas in your lap, under your armpits or in luke-warm water – but do not rub.

Heat Exhaustion

Typical symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, cramps and rapid breathing. Lay the casualty in a cool, shady place with feet raised to improve blood circulation to the brain. Administer sips of a weak saline solution to replace lost fluids and salts.


A potentially fatal condition where the body temperature soars to over 40C, symptoms of heatstroke include headache, dizziness, hot and flushed skin, rapid pulse and delirium, followed by unconsciousness. Reduce the body temperature as quickly as possible, covering the casualty in cold soaked clothing. Monitor the patient carefully in case resuscitation is required. Contact emergency services.


A dangerous condition caused when the body temperature drops to below 35C, hypothermia victims should be wrapped in warm dry clothing and helped into a sleeping bag or survival blanket. Offer a warm drink and be ready to resuscitate if necessary.

Natural Hazards

Always be prepared for extremes of weather by packing appropriate clothing and equipment. Seek local advice before swimming or bathing in areas that might be affected by offshore rip-currents.


A reduction of blood flow around the body can lead to organ failure and death. Treat shock by lying the victim down with legs raised above head level. Loosen clothing, monitor pulse and breathing and offer reassurance. Keep the patient warm with a sleeping bag or coat until medical help arrives.


Remove bee stings, wash affected area and apply sting relief cream. Check whether patient is susceptible to anaphylactic shock.


Always protect your skin by wearing a hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing and regularly apply high-factor suncream and lip balm. Treat sunburn by laying a cold soaked cloth over affected area. Apply calamine lotion or after-sun cream.


Contaminated water is the cause of several serious diseases. The best way to ensure that water is safe to drink is to boil it for several minutes. Water filters containing sterilising chemicals such as iodine are also effective. If using bottled water, always check that the seal around the cap is unbroken before consuming. Avoid ice and washed vegetables and salads if you are in any doubt as to whether the local water is safe.

Staying Healthy: Dangerous Animals


From grizzlies to great whites, black mambas to black widows, the world seems full of creatures hell-bent on killing people. That, at least, is what the press would have you believe. It only takes a single, isolated shark or bear attack to whip the media into a frenzy of ‘deadly creature’ statistics. The reality is that very few, if any, animals are actually out to get us.


Certain venomous spiders and snakes are dangerous to humans because we inadvertently invade their space or fail to recognise their camouflage or warning markings. Some find man-made habitats, like crop fields, woodpiles or even houses, just as good as natural ones. Other species mistake us for their natural prey (a great white shark, for example, confusing a human swimmer for a seal), while some, like the Nile and estuarine crocodile, see people as fair prey if they come within range.


Then there are the opportunists – elephants, buffalo, big cats, grizzly bears etc – which raid crops, kill domestic cattle or associate hikers with a free lunch. Confrontation inevitably leads to casualties – on both sides. Occasionally, human and animal worlds simply collide – a territorial hippo, for example, finding someone between it and the river, or a bull moose stepping onto a highway at the wrong moment. Some innocuous looking creatures (like the box jellyfish and poison dart frog) produce venoms and toxins that are lethal enough to kill a human several times over – but remember that they evolved these substances long before people arrived on the scene. Monkeys, racoons, bats and even domestic animals can all be rabies carriers, while mosquitoes, of course, are responsible for transmitting malaria – a disease that claims around two million human lives every year.


Stay safe by following these rules:

1. Observe warning signs 

Beaches in northern Australia, for example, will have signs warning if box jellyfish or crocodiles are present.

2. Heed expert advice 

Local guides and national park wardens will brief you on what to do in the event of a potentially dangerous encounter.

3. Don’t go looking for trouble

Respect the territories of wild animals and never interfere with their feeding or courtship behaviour, threaten their young, attempt to feed them or get too close for a photograph.

4. Take precautions 

Reduce risk by taking anti-malarials and properly equipping yourself, ie: wearing stinger suits if swimming in seas where jellyfish may be present, or tying bear bells to your pack if hiking in grizzly country.

Staying Healthy on a Wildlife Holiday Q&A

What should my First Aid Kit contain?

• Assorted plasters • Wound dressings • Surgical tape • Triangular bandage • Crêpe bandage • Blister pads • Antiseptic wipes • Cotton wool • Cotton buds • Safety pins • Scissors • Tweezers • Thermometer • Surgical gloves • Scalpel blades • Antiseptic cream • Anti-fungal cream • Insect bite cream • Calamine lotion • Painkillers • Throat lozenges • Indigestion pills • Diarrhoea pills • Motion sickness pills • Rehydration sachets • 5ml spoon • Eyewash • Antihistamines • Iodine tincture • Dental kit • Sterile kit

What is the ABC of Resuscitation?

Airway Check patient’s mouth and remove any obstruction. Tilt head back by lifting chin and pressing gently on forehead. Breathing Place your cheek next to patient’s mouth and nose for up to 10 seconds to detect breathing. Watch for movement of chest. Circulation Check the patient’s pulse. If necessary, begin artificial ventilation and/or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Staying Healthy: Diseases & Vaccinations



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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.