- Playful baby animals are popular at U.S. zoos -- and online
- Much fanfare often accompanies the birth of zoo animals
- The tiny creatures are cute by design, says Chris Eastland of ZooBorns.com
When Sekani gave birth to Adelina, she celebrated like most proud mothers, with a baby shower, a gift registry, and a Facebook page for showing off photos of the adorable girl. Except that Sekani and Adelina are western lowland gorillas who live at the Little Rock Zoo.
More than 800,000 animals live at U.S. facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and every year, thousands of those animals have babies. We've scoured the country to select the class of 2012: cute animals like Adelina that were born recently and to much fanfare. Because let's face it: zoo babies are innately irresistible. Just try not to smile while looking at a baby panda.
"Scientists believe humans are programmed to find baby animals cute because they remind us of our own young," says Chris Eastland, co-founder of ZooBorns.com, a website that obsessively chronicles baby zoo animals, and co-author of "ZooBorns: The Next Generation."
The first gut reaction is to squeal and ogle at these adorable critters, who quickly reveal their own personalities and habits. But it's worth paying closer attention, too, as many have fascinating backstories. Read on for more heartwarming stories and photos of newborn animals at zoos near you.
Lulu, Masai Giraffe, Cincinnati Zoo
Lulu was a social media star before she was even born. As her mother, five-year-old Tessa, delivered her in October 2012, every detail was live-tweeted on Twitter with a #giraffebirth hash tag that quickly went viral. At 8:27 a.m., followers learned that the 150-pound calf was out. At 9:14 a.m., they found out that she stood up for the first time. And at 9:44 a.m., they heard that she was nursing. Those who want to glimpse Lulu and Tessa "IRL" (that's "in real life") can visit mom and baby at the Giraffe Ridge exhibit.
Xiao Liwu, Giant Panda, San Diego Zoo
Xiao Liwu is the sixth giant panda cub to be born at the San Diego Zoo from mama bear Bai Yun. His name means "little gift" (cue the "awws"!) and was selected by thousands of fans who participated in an online vote. These days, you can catch Xiao Liwu toddling around the Panda Trek habitat as he learns to walk.
Kito, Grévy's Zebra, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago
Kito means "jewel" in Swahili, and this adorable zebra colt is certainly a prized animal at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. The energetic, long-legged youngster lives with his mom, Adia, and spends his days prancing around his yard in the Antelope & Zebra Area.
Gat and Lita, Cheetahs, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.
Gat and Lita came into the world, this spring, under harrowing circumstances. Their mother, Ally, 5, birthed Gat, then underwent a cesarean section to deliver three more cubs, but only one, Lita, survived. Mom and the two cubs spent several days afterwards in intensive care and have since fully recovered—and bonded. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals, and because they were born in an Olympics year, the cubs were named after the speediest American man and woman at the London Games. "Gat the Cat" takes his name from Justin Gatlin, who won bronze in the men's 100-meter sprint, and "Lita the Cheetah" was named after Carmelita Jeter, who won silver in the women's 100 meters.
Bexley, Matschie's Tree Kangaroo, Saint Louis Zoo
Though he was born in early 2012, Bexley, a Matschie's tree kangaroo, only recently started venturing from his mother's pouch to walk around and explore. As he gets bigger, the furry marsupial will be able to jump great distances, too—tree kangaroos, native to Papua New Guinea, can leap as much as 30 feet, from a treetop to the ground.
Amur Tigers, Columbus Zoo, Ohio
Mara, 5, and Foli, 9, became the parents of two male cubs in June 2012. They weighed just two to three pounds apiece and were placed into intensive care when one did not nurse for a dangerously long time. Luckily, the two youngsters are now healthy and living together in their habitat. The orange-and-black-striped cuties are still waiting on their names (the rights to name them were recently auctioned off at a zoo fundraiser), but in the meantime, they're happy to pass their days eating, dozing, and exploring their surroundings.
Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, Brookfield Zoo, Illinois
This little one emerged from her mom's pouch so recently that, as of November 2012, she has yet to receive a name. The Brookfield Zoo's female wombat is the fourth child of 12-year-old Kambora, who was born at the San Diego Zoo, and the second of Wilbur, 20, from Australia, the native country of wombats. This rambunctious baby lives at the Brookfield Zoo's Australia House and likes staying close to mom—sometimes even clambering onto her back.
Qinisa, Elephant, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
This playful elephant calf is hitting developmental milestones faster than any other pachyderm at San Diego Safari Park; at one week old, she was already using her trunk to pick up objects. Maybe it was only natural for a baby whose name means "to act with determination" in Siswati. Qinisa's mom, Swazi, was one of four elephants who were rescued from a game park in Swaziland in 2003.
Karoo, Black-Footed Cat, Brookfield Zoo, Illinois
Love cats? Then you'll swoon for Karoo, the Brookfield Zoo's big-eyed black-footed cat. The species is the smallest of all the African felines; grown black-footed cats are about half the size of your average domestic tabby. Like most felines, Karoo spends lots of time catnapping, but when he's awake, he's up and about and curious about his human guests.
Adelina, Western Lowland Gorilla, Little Rock Zoo, Arkansas
One could say that Adelina is Arkansas's most popular primate. After she was born from mom Sekani, 21, and dad Fossey, 26, the western lowland gorilla received her very own baby shower, complete with a Target registry that allowed zoogoers to buy her gifts, such as blankets and dried fruit. Adelina also has her own Facebook page, where fans can keep up with her whereabouts.