Lions and tigers and bears are child's play. Take a walk on the wild side with the world's biggest reptiles, birds and predatory fish. Here are some of the planet's most extreme animal encounters; they'll turn your vacation into a test of will.
At Gator Adventures in Orlando, FL, men and women are lining up to get up-close and personal with one of the planet's biggest reptiles. Weighing up to 1,000 pounds and moving at speeds reaching 20 miles per hour, average Joes can go head-to-head after signing a serious liability waiver and getting a 60-minute safety lesson. The only thing that separates your limbs from their extremely powerful jaws is a few loops of duct tape. Those who are seriously brave (or stupid) can take their alligator adventure off dry land and into the swamp.
Pauls Valley, Oklahoma
What in the world is noodling? This insane sport involves catching catfish with your bare hands. It might not sound that dangerous at first, but catfish make their homes by burrowing into holes along riverbanks -- holes that also frequently house alligators and poisonous snakes. Noodlers work in groups of three to five people: one reaches into the hole hoping to feel a nibble and lure out a 100-pound fish, the others stand by to grab the fish, pry open its mouth and run a fishing line through its gills. Noodling is so dangerous that Oklahoma is one of only 13 states where the sport is legalized.
New York, New York
This next extreme animal encounter will literally suck the lifeblood out of you. At Bellevue Hospital in New York, NY, doctors are resurrecting this ancient remedy. One of only 25 hospitals in the country practicing this therapy, Bellevue is using leeches to clear dangerous blood clots when reattaching patient's severed body parts. Leeches are able to drink up to five times their body weight in blood, allowing a fresh flow in patients' veins. The therapy involves leeching four to eight hours a day for up to 10 days.
At the Sankey Rodeo in Summerville, GA, everyday folks with the hearts of cowboys can get on the back of a bucking bronco in attempt to survive the most dangerous sport in the country. Each year about 1,500 would-be wranglers from all across the country to spend 3 full days of bull buckin' school. Why three days? This sport is so dangerous that 2 days are spent on the mechanical bull before students are allowed to saddle up to the real thing. On the third day, pupils don a protective vest, mouthpiece and helmet before being lowered on a bull from inside a chute hoping to hang on for eight seconds -- that's the amount of time riders need to earn points during competition, and less than half of professional bull riders last that.
Oudtshoorn, South Africa
From horses to camels to elephants, people love to ride animals. At the Cango Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, people are now getting the chance to ride the biggest, fastest and meanest bird on the planet -- the ostrich. These flightless birds can grow to be seven feet tall, 200 pounds and reach speeds faster than 40 miles per hour. More than 50,000 people a year visit the Cango Ostrich Farm from all over the world hoping to climb aboard one of these big birds -- and they do it without any safety equipment. If you think that's extreme, here's the kicker: guests at Cango Farm finish their tour of the farm with a meal -- and ostrich is the main course.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Another animal encounter that's more therapy than adventure is bee-healing. In Grand Rapids, MI, Kristine Jacobson has been practicing this extreme form of pain relief since 2003. She invites those who suffer from chronic pain into her home, where she keeps two and a half million bees. Therapists apply a live bee's stinger directly to patient's skin, and leave it there for 15 to 20 minutes. Bee venom is made up of over 80 proven pain relievers, like melatonin and dopamine, that once absorbed into the bloodstream, trick the brain into thinking it's no longer feeling pain. Even crazier? Kristine provides this treatment almost entirely free of cost, in order to spread the word about this natural pain reliever.
In Miami, FL, Monkey Jungle is the only place in the country where hundreds of monkeys are allowed to climb all over guests. This 30-acre wildlife preserve is home to over 400 primates. Five acres of the preserve simulate an Amazon rainforest, and just like the wild, there are no fences, barriers or cages separating visitors from the animals. Guests are encouraged to lure the monkeys out of the trees by feeding them peanuts and raisins -- this enticing snack will not only have monkeys eating out of the palm of your hand, they'll be crawling all over you.
San Francisco, California
At Shark Diving International based in San Francisco, CA, thrill seekers are entering the Pacific Ocean with great white sharks, the largest predatory fish in the world. Unlike other shark adventures that drag a cage along the ocean's floor, Shark Diving International allows their cage to float at a depth of up to 60 feet, providing a 360-degree view of the shark's natural habitat.