Where to see the largest flora and fauna on Earth

CNN  — 

Some of the largest animals to roam this planet are still alive today.

Astonishingly, the blue whale grows to be bigger than any dinosaur. Travelers can voyage to far corners of the globe to come across the largest whales, water lilies, primates and more.

These are 12 of the largest flora and fauna around the world:

Water lily: Giant water lilies in Guyana

In South America, Guyana is home to giant water lilies with the botanical name Victoria Amazonica. The lilies were discovered in 1837 and named after Queen Victoria. The lily pads grow up to 10 feet in diameter and hold 110 pounds.

“The giant water lily is Guyana’s national flower and is considered to be one of the ‘Giants of Guyana,’ ” says Carla James, director of the Guyana Tourism Authority. “Giant water lilies are native to the shallow waters of the Amazon River basin and oxbow lakes of the Rupununi region of the country.”

Fish: Whale shark

In spite of the formidable-sounding name, the whale shark poses no threat to humans.

The whale shark is the largest known fish. The endangered species can grow up to 62 feet in length.

“With mouths up to five feet wide, whale sharks gulp down entire schools of tiny fish and plankton. These gentle giants pose no threat to humans,” says John Hocevar, a marine biologist at Greenpeace USA.

They glide at about 3 miles an hour, leisurely noshing on plankton and krill along the way.

Whale sharks are found in tropical oceans such as the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve in Belize between March and June, Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia between March and August, and Isla Holbox in Mexico between May and October and can be spotted from a boat.

Sea turtle: Leatherback

You might come across one of these giants during their nesting period, such as Florida from March through July.

The vulnerable leatherback sea turtle is the largest of all the sea turtles and one of the largest reptiles on Earth. Its risk of extinction is high.

The enormous turtle can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and run eight feet in length. “Leatherback sea turtles can reach the size of a small car, but hatch from eggs that look like ping pong balls,” Hocevar says.

Leatherback sea turtles migrate up to 10,000 miles a year to search for food and nesting grounds – and nesting season is when you’re more likely to see them.

Keep an eye out for them in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans in the warm waters found at The Palm Beaches resort in Florida from March through July, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast from March through June and in Shell Beach Protected Area in Guyana from March to August.

Primate: Gorillas

Critically endangered eastern gorillas are the largest living ape and primates on the planet.

“All four gorilla subspecies are giant compared to humans, but the eastern lowland gorilla is the largest, with barrel-chested males sometimes weighing more than 450 pounds,” says Rolf Skar, Greenpeace USA deputy campaigns director. They’re also the largest mammal to build a nest, according to the Guinness World Records website.

Eastern gorillas can weigh more than 450 pounds.

The eastern gorilla has two subspecies, the eastern lowland gorilla, found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the mountain gorilla, found in the cloud forests of the Virunga Massif volcanic mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to half of the world’s mountain gorilla population.

Land animal: African elephants

African elephants are Earth’s largest land mammal.

“Two subspecies of the African elephants are the savanna elephant and the forest elephant. The savannah elephant is the largest elephant subspecies,” says Bas Huijbregts, African species director at World Wildlife Fund. “An adult bull (male) savannah elephant can have a shoulder height of 11 feet, weigh up to 7,500 kg (16,500 pounds) and reach a length of 30 feet.”

Baby elephants weigh an astonishing 200 pounds and stand 3 feet (almost 1 meter) tall at birth. According to Huijbregts, elephants – and their tusks – grow throughout their life.

Even the babies are huge: Weighing an astonishing 200 pounds, they stand 3 feet tall at birth and never stop growing.

African elephants are listed as vulnerable to extinction largely because of poaching for the illegal ivory trade.

Found in forests, deserts, marshlands, grasslands and savannahs across the African continent in Tanzania, South Africa, Gabon, Zambia and other countries, going on a safari in any of these places may result in spotting a family of elephants.

Botswana is home to the largest number of elephants in the world with a population of 130,000, making it the best place to see African elephants.

You’re unlikely to come across an African elephant on your own so it’s best to book a safari with an operator who prioritizes the well-being of the wild animals such as Brave Africa.

Individual flower: Rafflesia

The rafflesia parasitic plant is the largest single flower in the world. This flower is native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. It can also be found in Thailand, The Philippines and Malaysia. It’s the state flower of Sabah, Malaysia, and Surat Thani Province, Thailand.

The plant is often called the “monster flower” as it attracts insects to pollinate it by emitting a repulsive odor. It grows up to four feet in diameter, can weigh 24 pounds and is a deep shade of red with raised oblong spots of a lighter shade.

Lizard: Komodo dragon

Komodo dragons are the largest lizard species that still roam the Earth.

“Komodo dragons, which can be up to 10 feet long and 300 pounds, are not just the world’s largest lizards, they’re rare reptilian relics. These ‘dragons’ are descendants of giant lizards from Asia that evolved in Australia, then became isolated in a handful of Indonesia’s islands over geologic time,” Skar says.

The endangered lizards live in Indonesia, and can only be seen at Komodo National Park, a 420,000 acre UNESCO World Heritage Site including Komodo, Rinca, Padar and a few other small islands. To enter the park you must be with a park ranger at all times and keep a safe distance from the lizards.

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Marsupial: Red kangaroo

Guided tours in the Australian Outback can provide opportunities to catch these leaping kangaroos in action.

The red kangaroo is the world’s largest marsupial. According to Skar, red kangaroos are the biggest animal on the Australian continent.

“These large leapers grow up to 200 pounds with males standing 6 over feet tall. With powerful hind legs, they can catapult 25 feet in a single bound and reach speeds of 35 miles per hour,” he says. “When born, baby joeys are only an inch long.”

The kangaroo is found in the semi-arid and arid regions of mainland Australia. Australia’s Mungo National Park in the outback is one of the best places to see red kangaroos. For the best chance of seeing the kangaroos, head out to Lake Mungo with a guide. You might even catch young males engaging in a boxing fight as they stand on their hind limbs and jab at each other.

Reptile: Saltwater crocodile

Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptiles in the world.

“The reptile grows up to 20 feet long, and can swim at up to 18 mph — around three times as fast as the fastest human,” says Sally Egan, executive director parks and wildlife, Northern Territory (NT) Department of Tourism.

The largest population of wild saltwater crocodiles can be found in Australia in Kakadu National Park and Nitmiluk National Park. Saltwater crocodiles are extremely dangerous and the species is protected in the NT.

“When in the NT, you’re in croc country so you must be ‘crocwise’ at all times. The best way to see these amazing animals up close and in their natural habitat is at our wildlife parks,” Egan says.

Salties, as Australians call the reptile, can also be found in eastern India and around Southeast Asia.

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Whale: Blue whale

“The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to exist on our planet, with a tongue the size of an elephant,” Hocevar says. The endangered species can grow up to 105 feet and weigh up to 200 tons. Their hearts weigh as much as an ambulance.

The oceanic giants can swim as fast as 20 miles an hour, but they usually traverse the sea at a much slower pace, about five miles an hour. Traveling in pairs or alone, blue whales are known for their loud vocals, which can reach other whales a thousand miles away.

Blue whales can be seen offshore from Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, from mid-March to mid-April, and in Western Australia from May to December.

Penguin: Emperor penguin

Emperor penguins reside in Antarctica and are the world’s largest penguins at an average of 45 inches tall.

“Emperor penguins can weigh almost up to 100 pounds. These amazing birds may not be able to fly, but they’re extremely agile swimmers,” Hocevar says.

The penguins in Antarctica, known as emperor penguins, are, on average, 45 inches tall.

The penguins can stay underwater for up to 22 minutes and are the only bird that breeds in the depths of the Antarctic winter. While not endangered, they’re nearly threatened.

Bear: Polar bear

The world’s largest bear is also the largest terrestrial predator.

“When people think of the biggest carnivores on land, they’re quick to name tigers or lions. But tipping the scales at 1,500 pounds and up to 9 feet long, polar bears can weigh more than a male lion and tiger put together,” Skar says.

The pola bear is the world's largest terrestrial predator.

The bears have webbed feet and are considered marine mammals. They’ve been listed under the US Endangered Species Act as threatened because of predicted climate change since 2008.

There are 19 populations of polar bears with 13 residing in Canada, according to a tour operator specializing in polar bear safaris in Churchill, Manitoba.

This northern region of the province is one of the best places to chance your luck at seeing a polar bear. The rest are scattered throughout Alaska, Norway, Greenland and Russia.