The 35 Cutest Zoo Babies of 2012
Trying to figure out what to do with the kids this weekend? We found 23 zoos around the country (some with free admission!) with adorable new additions, from Anala the Indian rhino in Miami to Kiazi the De Brazza's monkey in Denver.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma
"There is nothing more adorable than clouded leopard cubs," declared staff biologist Andy Goldfarb, who has cared for exotic cats for more than 25 years. And he was present for the birth of the two newest cuties: a son and a daughter born on March 6 to mom Chai Li and pop Nah Fun. The babies weighed just a half-pound each, and are being hand raised by zoo staffers. Soon, the infants will move into the zoo's new cub den, where visitors will be able to see them up close as they are fed and cared for. Clouded leopards live mostly in the forest of Southeast Asia, where massive clear-cutting for oil palm plantations has threatened their populations. Exactly how many clouded leopards exist is unknown because the cats are so difficult to study (this is one of only three zoos in the country breeding endangered clouded leopard cubs, along with Nashville Zoo and Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo). "We hope our visitors will fall in love with these cubs," added Goodrowe Beck, "and get inspired to help save clouded leopards in the wild."
The Smithsonian's National Zoo
A pair of extremely rare rail chicks hatched here on March 3 and 4, joining six others in the zoo's collection. The chicks (whose sexes are undetermined) bring the total world population of these flightless birds, who are extinct in the wild, to 162. To date, 82 chicks have hatched at the Zoo and its Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, each providing scientists with the opportunity to learn about the growth, reproduction, health and behavior of the species. Zookeepers have been on a mission to protect the species. Back in the 1980s, 29 of the flightless birds were sent to Guam for release and breeding. The rails flourished in the country's limestone forests and coconut plantations, until the arrival of the invasive brown tree snake. Within three decades, the snakes (who have no natural predators there) had hunted Guam rails and eight other bird species to the brink of extinction. It's why the not-yet-named chicks here are such a symbol of hope.
Omana the Kiwi
The brown kiwi may be one of the world's most endangered species, and kiwis born in captivity are extremely rare. But despite that, one of the fuzzy little chicks arrived at the National Zoo on December 11, 2011, and keepers and visitors have been buzzing about it ever since. The chick is the sixth hatched in the zoo's history. And though it won't be on exhibit, folks can watch its progress on the zoo's Kiwi Cam. It's sure to be a trip, as, unlike many other bird species, kiwis hatch fully feathered and equipped with all necessary survival skills. Omana, by the way, was named by Mike Moore, New Zealand ambassador to the U.S., in honor of his Auckland-area hometown, O-Manawatere. And the tiny bird is quite important to kiwi conservation: Currently, there are only 15 female and 33 male kiwi in zoos outside of New Zealand.
Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
Phantom of Birchwood the Alpaca
Alpacas, which resemble small llamas, are native to snowy, mountainous regions of South America—which makes them perfectly suited, luckily enough, to deal with Wisconsin's wintery weather. And this baby boy, or cria, was born in the midst of a cold winter, on January 5. He and mom Darbella are doing well, and living cozily in the new high-tech eco-friendly barn at the Children's Zoo, which uses geothermal technology and has solar panels and an integrated rainwater collection system. Alpacas are traditionally kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador and northern Chile. They are the smallest of the camelid species, which also includes llamas, guanacos and vicunas.