At this point, photos of cute baby animals are practically the currency of the Internet. Add a newborn otter or a teeny hedgehog to your next YouTube video, and it instantly ups the odds that it will go viral. Our brains are wired to like babies—be they human or animal. Those big eyes, rounded faces, small noses, and chubby little bodies, along with a wobbling walk (characteristics known as “baby schema” in scientific circles) trigger a nurturing instinct, an emotional response that likely stems from evolution. In layman’s terms, there's a cuteness factor.
So that explains why you click over to a video of Buck, the eight-week-old Heeler with the hiccups when you need a midday pick me up, or why Kittens of Instagram can elicit squeals from an office full of grown-ups. But the only thing better than watching gif after gif of puppies, bunnies, and lion cubs is seeing the little fluffballs in real life.
Before social media, zoo births were covered on a relatively local scale. But now, not only are labor and delivery Internet events, but the babies are also often visible shortly after via webcam (take, for example, the National Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam), giving animal lovers plenty of time to plan their zoo-centric trips before the furry tots become full-grown predators and prey.
To aid in your animal-based pilgrimage, we’re pulling together a list of the cutest baby animals that you have to see this year, a lineup we’ll continue to update as additional little ones are make their public debuts. But enough talk. For polar bear cubs, newborn leopards, and rhino calves, head right this way.