Most Americans spend more time on the couch than the road, which means that when we see wildlife it is often trying to sell us soft drinks. There is nothing wrong with this situation so long as we remember that shilling for insurance companies is not a common behavior on the savannah.
Where do these nonhuman pitchmen come from? All over the world. It turns out the casting directors for these commercials are traveling to some unexpected and unexpectedly obscure locales to find the perfect furry face for their products.
In the spirit of safari season, currently underway in Africa, here is a guided tour of the advertising world's fauna. Keep your hands inside the Jeep or you'll end up with crippling credit card debt.
The Geico Gecko may have an Australian accent, but he's probably never been to Sydney. Though Australia does host several species of geckos, the famed pitchman is a clearly a Day Gecko, <a href="http://www.phelsumania.com/" target="_hplink">a member of genus Phelsuma</a> native to the islands of the Indian Ocean. To find these critters, travelers can head to the beautiful Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Seychelles or Madagascar, where civil strife might make the trip unpleasantly eventful. Some species can be found closer to home in Hawaii and Florida, where they have been introduced.
Fruit Loops Toucan
Toucan Sam has been shilling sugary cereal for so long that he much be terribly wealthy by now. His other house (read: the one not in Los Angeles) could be anywhere from Mexico to the southern tip of South America, but is likely in the Brazilian Amazon, where Toucans are plentiful. Travelers looking to make a visit should call ahead, the Amazon equivalents of the paparazzi are poachers and loggers. Hopefully Sam's cereal will be enough to console him when his native habitat is chopped down.
The Cheetos Cheetah, whose friends call him Chester, has long been encouraging children to get caught orange handed. It is good that his career in showbiz worked out because he is tiny for a Cheetah and his bipedal approach to life probably wouldn't work out to well on the Serengeti, where safari-goers can see his cousins. No matter, Chester seems unlikely to go back to Africa. He seems like a guy whose really lost touch with his roots and probably invites people to key parties.
The irony at the core of the Careerbuilder commercials is that the Chimps featured in the role of bad co-workers have horrible jobs. In their natural habitat, which spans much of central Africa, chimps spend less time bothering cubicle workers and more time foraging and forming complicated social relationships. Though the most famous chimps in the world reside in Tanzania's Gombe Park, where Jane Goodall lived among them, the best place for travelers to see mankind's closest relatives is likely western Uganda, where they live close to their Gorilla brethren.
Pacific Life Whales
Though Pacific Life Insurance wants us to associate breaching Humpback Whales with safety, marine biologists believe the behavior is most likely a sign that the whales are sexually aroused, asserting dominance or signaling to each other about danger. Though Humpback Whales do live in the Pacific -- and nearly everywhere else for that matter -- travelers eager to spend some time listening to their aquatic arias should head to the Silver Banks off of the Dominican Republic, where they congregate every January for their annual orgy/buffet.
Further proof of China's economic dominance, the Aflac Duck actually hails from Asia. Though the ducks featured in the highly successful commercials were <a href="http://www.metzerfarms.com/PekinDucks.cfm?Breed=Pekin&BirdType=Duck&ID=P" target="_hplink">bred in California</a>, the Pekin duck species was <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19937201" target="_hplink">originally bred in the waterways of Nanjing and Beijing</a> before first being exported to America in the late 19th century. Travelers looking to find Pekin Ducks should simply go to dinner: The vast majority of duck consumed in the U.S. is Pekin Duck.
John West Bears
John West's advertisement for his canned Red Salmon begins as a totally accurate depiction of Grizzly Bears consuming migrating salmon along a river that appears to be in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone is a fisherman wearing waders. Truth in advertising. The latter half of the ad is less accurate: A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/yellowstone-national-park-grizzly-bear-attack_n_892050.html" target="_hplink">Grizzly wouldn't win a fight using karate</a>, it would simply eat the fisherman's face. Grizzlies are majestic from a distance and can be found in several national parks, notably Denali, Yellowstone and Glacier.
Nike Wild Horses
Wild Horses live all over the American West and, despite Nike's eagerness to conflate Mustang majesty with ugly shoes, that has long been a problem for a lot of ranchers, <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/wild-horses-are-again-losing-their-home-on-the-range/242587/" target="_hplink">who advocate culling the herds</a>. That said, a commercial showing a percentage of the runners being shot to prevent their impinging on privately-owned lands probably wouldn't have gone over well. Travelers eager to see horses in the wild would do well to head to <a href="http://www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/horses.htm" target="_hplink">Assateague, Virginia</a> or <a href="http://www.corollawildhorses.com/" target="_hplink">Corolla, North Carolina</a>, where herds predictably camp out on the beaches. Another option: Mongolia.
The Dunkaroo Kangaroo, named Uncle Toby, has a secret. He is a she. This is clear because he keeps his snacks in a pouch, a trait only seen on female roos and never on boomers. Travelers eager to see Kangaroos and other marsupials in the wild will have to head to Australia. Western Australia in particular is almost annoyingly full of Kangaroos, which sort of takes the romance out of the whole thing. Those looking to get close, might be wise to befriend smaller species than Uncle Toby, who appears to be a Red Kangaroo and could be almost seven feet tall. Wallabies, for instance, are adorable and less prone to both violent outbursts and backwards ball caps.
Bud Ice Penguin
Though the Bud Ice Pengunin most closely resembles a Far Side cartoon, his small stature and markings out him as a member of the Adélie species. The behavior in the commercial may actually be close to accurate: No less than Robert Falcon Scott describe Adélies as "pig-headed" for their persistant curiosity and eagerness to follow humans. Travelers can find these tenacious sea birds around the Ross Sea and on Ross Island, where they live in a massive colony, drinking heavily to forget the pain of not being able to fly.