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.
Take Rinny, the Denver Zoo’s female Malayan tapir, who when giving birth struggled to free her baby from his amniotic sac. Zookeepers had to intervene, remove the baby, and resuscitate him with mouth to snout breaths. Today, the little tapir calf named Dumadi is healthy and loves swimming and romping around.
Some births are overseen by AZA Species Survival Plan Programs, which are designed to boost the population of endangered or threatened animals like the Amur leopards. Less than 40 currently exist in the wild, making them among the world’s most endangered felines. This year, two cubs, Dmitri and Tamara, were born at the Minnesota Zoo. Though they’re just two cats, their births significantly increase the species’ population and are a big step in its conservation.
Of course, no survey of zoo newborns would be complete without those lovable pandas. At the San Diego Zoo, mama Bai Yun gave birth to Xiao Liwu, her sixth panda cub—whose name was selected by thousands of participants in an online vote. He can be found toddling around the Panda Trek habitat and is doing his part to bring in crowds to San Diego, the No. 1 most-visited zoo in America.
Read on for more heartwarming stories and photos of newborn animals at zoos near you.