Cutest Baby Animals at U.S. Zoos
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.
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, OH
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, IL
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, IL
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, AR
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.
Dmitri and Tamara, Amur Leopards, Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
Less than 40 Amur leopards exist in the wild, so the birth of two cubs in May 2012 was a boon not just for the Minnesota Zoo, but for the worldwide species too. Their mother, Polina, has raised the cubs since day one, and they’ve already developed distinct personalities: Tamara’s the spunky one, while Dmitri is a bit sassier.
Dumadi, Malayan Tapir, Denver Zoo
His name means “becoming” in Indonesian, and it’s appropriate for this hardy little guy. When Rinny, the Denver Zoo’s female tapir, gave birth to Dumadi, she couldn’t free him from his amniotic sac. Zookeepers intervened, removed him from it, and when they realized he wasn’t breathing, administered mouth-to-snout resuscitation until he was able to breathe on his own. Today, Dumadi is a healthy calf who enjoys swimming and exploring his habitat, the 10-acre Toyota Elephant Passage.
Stella Gray, Athena, and Mariah, Arctic Foxes, Como Park Zoo, St. Paul, MN
Arctic foxes Aurora (mom) and Zephyr (dad) welcomed a litter of nine pups in March. Three—Stella Gray, Athena, and Mariah—still reside at the Como Park Zoo. They’re quick and feisty and love to scamper around their grassy habitat. They’ve also shown off their artistic prowess by creating colorful “paw paintings” for zoo auctions and TV segments.
Western Pond Turtles, Oregon Zoo, Portland
When it comes to cute zoo animals, turtles don’t immediately come to mind. But there’s something winning about these tiny baby western pond turtles, especially when you know their story. As part of a conservation program to boost the number of these turtles in the Columbia River Gorge, every year, the Oregon Zoo rears a group in its facilities so they’re larger, stronger and better able to withstand predators when they’re returned to the wild the following spring. The zoo’s efforts have helped grow the number of western pond turtles in the gorge from 150 in 1990 to 1,500 in 2011.
Mtai and Serafina, Lions, Saint Louis Zoo
Mtai and Serafina are the two surviving cubs out of a litter of four who were born on Valentine’s Day 2012. Mtai is named after a Tanzanian village, while Serafina means “angel” in Swahili. The sisters live in the zoo’s Big Cat Country with mom, Cabara, dad, Ingozi, and big sister, Imani.
Ikenge, Okapi, Dallas Zoo
Okapis are members of the giraffe family and live deep within the tropical rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Baby Ikenge may be a Texas native, but he retains a connection to his homeland. He’s named after a town in the Congo as well as his grandfather, who, tragically, was killed by poachers during a recent attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Ikenge sticks by his mother and, like most okapis, is naturally shy.
Bianca and Bernard, Golden Lion Tamarins, Kansas City Zoo, MO
It was double the fun in January 2012 when endangered golden lion tamarins Mica (mom) and Dax (dad) gave birth to twins (which is common for the species). Like many twins, Bianca and Bernard are close and often share their food. At mealtime, they’ll grab their fruit or insects, then run to a corner to compare and share the goodies.
Juba, Eastern Black Rhinoceros, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
With the July 2012 birth of Juba, three generations of critically endangered eastern black rhinoceroses now call the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo home. (Juba’s mom is Kibibbi, and his grandmother is Inge.) Juba was about 80 pounds at birth, but is already growing up quickly. He weighs in at nearly 320 pounds now and will get to about 3,000 when full-grown.
Galapagos Tortoise, Phoenix Zoo
This little guy might have the oldest parents around. Ralph and Mary, the Phoenix Zoo’s endangered Galapagos tortoises, have lived here since it opened in 1962 and are estimated to be nearly 100! Their baby’s sex has yet to be determined (which is also why no name has been chosen). For an animal with a reputation of being slow-moving, this is one active tortoise, spending its days climbing over the rocks in its habitat.
Loki, Aye-Aye, Philadelphia Zoo
Native to the rainforests of Madagascar, aye-ayes are the world’s largest nocturnal primates (yup, we’re related!). They’re extremely elusive in the wild, but you can reliably catch a glimpse of a baby aye-aye at the Philadelphia Zoo. Loki was born in July 2012 and lives with his mom, Medusa, in a habitat next to his older brother, Smeagol, and dad, Tolkein. He’s timid and sweet, and spends his days climbing and chewing on his perches.
Justin, Red Panda, Memphis Zoo
The Memphis Zoo was lucky to welcome not one but two red panda cubs in 2012. Justin was born in August to Pele (mom) and Ryo (dad). Lucille, another cub originally from the Bronx Zoo, soon joined him. Justin and Lucille are still being hand-reared and won’t be on exhibit until December or so. But in the meantime, they’re happily bonding and love playing together.
Tank, Sea Lion, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, NE
It’s an apt name for a little sea lion who lives at a zoo: Tank. Following his birth in June 2012, zoogoers were invited to submit names, and keepers chose “Tank” from the 201 options. Tank lives with his parents, Gina and Chino, at the Owen Sea Lion Pavilion.
Toumi, Saki Monkey, Houston Zoo
For weeks, zookeepers had noticed that their female saki monkey, Jolene, was gaining weight and thought she might be pregnant. Then, one morning in June, their suspicions were confirmed. They discovered that Jolene had given birth to a healthy baby boy overnight. And an even nicer surprise? The infant, later named Toumi, was born on Father’s Day—the first child for proud papa Harry.
Ginger, Sage, Herb, and Dill, Red River Hogs, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden
These piglet siblings are always up to something! Each day, zookeepers make sure they’re entertained by giving them a variety of enrichment activities: toys to play with, music to listen to, scents to investigate. When they’ve had enough of that, they spend time rooting around their habitat for food, wading in their pool, and chowing down on alfalfa. Not a bad life!
Short-Eared Elephant Shrew, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.
Hold back that squeal. This little critter and his siblings (all yet to be named) are some of the newest additions to the Smithsonian Zoo’s Small Mammal House. Short-eared elephant shrews remain tiny for their entire lives, growing to only about four inches and weighing around one ounce. But, interestingly, they’re more closely related to elephants than shrews (which are small, furry mammals).