The 35 Cutest Zoo Babies of 2012

Courtesy Oakland Zoo

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.

Spring has sprung, and zoos around the country are celebrating a baby boom! We can't get enough of all critters cute and cuddly, even if some have a face only a mother could love (check out the baby aardvark). They were all born within the last six months, some thanks to strategic matchmaking from zoo to zoo (did you know there was online dating in the animal world?). A few of the babes don't have names—or even a gender!—yet, and zoos are letting the public weigh in on names. The creatures run the gamut from great and small, from a 120-pound camel and a 72-inch giraffe to a two-ounce golden lion tamarin and a six-inch-long Rio Cauca Caecilian (aka a rubber eel). And while a new baby is always something to be excited about, many of these are part of endangered species (including one that is officially extinct in the wild) and represent the future of their kind. Click through the slideshow to see the animals to see all the fascinating faces, and don't forget to vote for the cutest zoo baby of 2012!



Phoenix Zoo

$18, children 3-12 $9, children 2 and under free; 455 N Galvin Parkway, Phoenix; 602/673-1341;

Cooper the Red Brocket Deer
Just like his namesake—awkward intellectual Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory—young Cooper has some issues with his social skills: He is, just like the rest of his species, extremely shy and wary of others, explains Michelle Hatwood, hoofstock manager at the Phoenix Zoo. You can hardly blame him, though, as Red Brockets average only two feet high and a mere 30 pounds when fully grown—which is not much when compared to the 100-300-pound average of white-tailed deer. The Big Bang Theory is a favorite show of the zookeepers, and Cooper was born on December 17, 2011, to mom Penny and father Leonard (who unfortunately passed away last year). Despite his bashfulness, Cooper is on exhibit with the rest of the herd daily.

Amelia the Gerenuk
This long-necked antelope, born on December 23, 2011, to mom Claire and dad Boone, spent the first couple months of her life in the zoo's animal hospital—but only to keep her warm while a new gerenuk barn was being built (native to East Africa, gerenuks don't take well to the cold). They are also fragile and skittish by nature, especially females. That's why the keepers are hand-raising this playful girl, bottle feeding her goat-milk formula five times a day and recently starting her on a diet of leaves, apples, carrots and dietary pellets. Amelia, named after a character on the TV show Lost just like the rest of the gerenuks here, was nonetheless thrilled the first day she joined the public exhibit, and she made it known with her joyous pronking—jumping high into the air by lifting all fours off the ground simultaneously (something also done when evading a predator).

Marabou Stork Chicks
The stork delivered to a couple of its own on February 8 and 11, when a pair of female chicks hatched, one after the other, to the delight of mom Mabel and dad Milton. The first-time parents have been together for 27 years, and the births were a coup for them as well as for the zoo: Marabous, native to Africa, are quite difficult to breed without a very large group of birds around. The chicks have been growing quickly, thanks to feedings from both Mom and Dad and the keepers—though Dad in particular has become more territorial around his girls, so zoo staffers have had to be cautious when helping out with food and cleanings.



Oakland Zoo

$13.75, children 2-14 $9.75, children 2 and under free; 9777 Golf Links Rd, Oakland; 510/632-9525;

Maggie the Giraffe
Maggie—the zoo's first female giraffe baby in more than a decade—was born to mom Twiga and dad Mabusu, away from onlookers, on January 12. She was a massive bundle of joy at 80 pounds, 72 inches, and she had excellent timing, arriving just a few weeks before the zoo hosted a conference for the International Association of Giraffe Care Professionals, which drew a slew of giraffe-loving zookeepers, vets and researchers. Maggie is part of the reticulated giraffe species, so named for their distinctive pattern of brown, box-like patches. Their numbers in the wild have been greatly decreasing; a decade ago there were 30,000, and today there are fewer than 5,000 reticulated giraffes, found mainly in northeast Kenya.

Santa Ana Zoo

$8, children 3-12 $5, children 2 and under free; 1801 E. Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana; 714/836-4000;

Silvery Langurs
These orange-haired half-sibling monkeys have been stealing the show since arriving just three weeks apart. The first, a male, was born on January 31 to parents Oliver and Daria; then came a girl, on February 22, to sly-fox Oliver and mom Ripley. Despite the "silvery" name, these monkeys-native to tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia-are born bright orange before turning silver-gray at about three to five months old. And their hue, combined with their cuteness, has apparently given zoo attendance quite a boost. "Our visitors have been flabbergasted when they see two orange babies instead of one," says Kent Yamaguchi, zoo director. More importantly, the new arrivals have been a tremendous boost to the silvery langur population in North America, currently numbering at about 50. The naming of the furry creatures is being used as a fund-raising effort through the Friends of Santa Ana Zoo society, which will let some generous person—for a donation of $750—do the honors. Anyone?



Denver Zoo

$15, children 3-11 $10, children 2 and under free; 2300 Steele St, Denver; 303/376-4800;

Sulawesi Forest Turtle
This rare Indonesian breed of turtle was only first discovered in 1995 and is considered critically endangered. Thankfully one was added to the ranks on January 24, with the first successful hatching of a Sulawesi forest turtle in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoo. Zookeepers worked hard at the hatching, nudging the temperamental and shy parents along with their breeding process by providing them with various amounts of space and vegetation cover. After laying her egg, mom buried it in a hole, where it sat for just over four months before hatching. The unnamed baby could grow to be about a foot long—which will be helped along by his diet of fruit, veggies, and pinky mice—and could live for up to 30 or 40 years.

Kiazi the De Brazza's Monkey
This little ball of fur was appropriately named Kiazi, meaning "potato" in Swahili. She is the third birth for mom Marinda and father Kisoro, who came to Denver Zoo in 2006 after being rescued by conservationists from the Republic of Congo black market. Visitors can see Kiazi, who was born December 4, 2011, being "very bouncy," eating foods like greens and biscuits, and shifting between her indoor and outdoor habitats in Primate Panorama, which is "pretty darn cute," says her keeper. 

Cantil Vipers
They may look like harmless little wrigglers now, but these eight babies, born on February 12 and representing the first-ever breeding of the species at the Denver Zoo, will eventually eat enough pinky mice to grow into sneaky, venomous two-foot-long snakes that only a mother could love. They get an early start with their wily ways, as juveniles are equipped with yellow-tipped tails, which they can wriggle like worms in order to ensnare small prey. Even so, these poisonous vipers, native to Mexico and Central America, have a near-threatened status due to human persecution. Though you can't glimpse these babies just yet, there is an adult Cantil Viper on display.


Brevard Zoo, Melbourne

$14.50, children 2-12 $10.50, children 2 and under free; 8225 N Wickham Rd., Melbourne; 321/254-9453;

Giant Anteater
Mom Boo and dad Abner welcomed their hairy little pup on January 26 and, serious attachment-parenting adherents that they are, have yet to let go of their little one. That's because baby anteaters spend the first year of their lives riding on mom's back—when they're not nursing, that is. "It's very exciting for us because it's the first time we've had a giant anteater born at the zoo," said zoo marketing director Andrea Hill. The long-snouted infant is of a not-yet-determined gender (blood tests are required to figure this part out) and is still without a name, as the zoo plans to auction off the naming rights at its April 28 fundraiser.


Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

$81.99, children 3-12 from $73.99, children 2 and under free (save $10 per ticket by purchasing online); 10165 N McKinley Dr., Tampa; 888/800-5447;

Cofi the Giraffe
Mom Cupid delivered one very big girl on January 27: Cofi, her 6'2", 176-pound baby. But she was already an old pro: this was Cupid's fifth calf. Cofi is the second for father Jafari—Tesa, another female in the herd, gave birth to his first daughter just two months before. Cofi's name in Swahili means "born on Friday" (which she was) and her arrival brings the park's reticulated giraffe population to 19. Cupid will nurse and care for her little one until about the end of April, when they will then join the other creatures of Serengeti Plain exhibit.

Emu Chicks
What's furry, striped, and about the height of an iPhone? An emu chick, of course. These two busted out of their dark-green eggs on February 5 and 6 after tapping for a while from the inside. This signal tipped off zookeepers that the little guys were getting ready to hatch, prompting them to place the eggs in an incubator. The flightless birds are part of the ratite order, along with ostriches, rheas, cassowary, and kiwis.  

Zoo Miami

$15.95, children 3-12 $11.95, children 2 and under free; 12400 SW 152 St, Miami; 305/251-0400;

Anala the Indian Rhino
Baby Anala is still an infant, but already she's been hailed as a history maker: The female Indian one-horned rhinoceros is the first of her highly endangered species to be born in the history of all South Florida zoos—and one of only three born in U.S. captivity in 2011. She's the first offspring for both mom Kalu (who gracefully endured a 16-month pregnancy) and dad Suru, who arrived at Zoo Miami in 2003 as part of a breeding loan with the San Francisco Zoo. Anala was born on December 29, 2011, and spent several weeks cloistered with mom but is now on view for visitors. "She's a very curious baby that shows little or no fear," says a zookeeper, "and she has an adorable habit of resting her head on top of her mother's while she is sleeping." Get all your "awwwws" in now, though: Anala, like all Indian rhinos, could reach a whopping 6,000 pounds by the time she's full-grown.


Zoo Atlanta

$20.99, children 3-11 $15.99, children 2 and under free; 800 Cherokee Ave SE, Atlanta; 404/624-9453;

Golden Lion Tamarin
The latest addition here is a yet-to-be-named tiny Golden Lion Tamarin, who has been thriving since her birth on February 25—and that's saying a lot, considering that her early days were marred by tragedy. Two other infants were born with the tiny babe to mom Robin, but they did not survive: One died at birth, while another died just four days later, following a fatal fall. Infant mortality is not uncommon in golden lion tamarins, say zoo officials, as they weigh only around two ounces at birth. But mom will get some time to recover from her losses as dad Theo took over caring for the baby after just a few weeks, as is customary for the African-native creatures.



Brookfield Zoo

$15, children 3-11 $10.50, children 2 and under free; 8400 31st Street, Brookfield; 708/688-8000;

With a snout like a pig's, ears like a donkey's, and a tongue like an anteater's, this strange little wrinkly calf has an interesting life of insect-devouring and daytime-burrowing ahead of it. Born on January 12 to mom Jessi and dad Hoover, this as-yet-unnamed babe—whose sex is still unknown—was fragile, as all aardvark infants are, and has received plenty of top-notch care from zoo staffers. But soon the "earth pig," as is the translation for the Afrikaans word aardvark, will be inhaling up to 90,000 insects with its sticky, six-foot-long tongue in a single day, just like the rest of its species. Also on the menu: ants, and fruits such as the aardvark cucumber (a spiny fruit from their native southern Africa). To accommodate aardvarks' desire to burrow and escape the sun during the day, the zoo provides the creatures with plenty of burlap sacks, boxes, and the occasional sand pile. Though this new addition will remain out of view for a while, there's a live video monitor set up so that zoo visitors can get a glimpse of the babe in the aardvark building.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

Free; 2001 N Clark St, Chicago; 312/742-2000;

Crested Wood Partridges
The McCormick Bird House welcomed three crested wood partridge chicks on January 7. The fuzzy new arrivals—part of a dimorphic species, meaning males and females differ in appearance—are growing quickly thanks to steady diet of insects gathered by mom and dad. Males have bluish-purple feathers as well as a large red crest on the head (which gives the species its name), while females have green feathers and no crest.



Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

$13.50, children 2-14 $8.50, children 1 and under free; 3411 Sherman Blvd.; 260/427-6800;

Dingo Pups
Generally considered pests in their native Australia (thanks to the wild dogs nabbing one too many grazing sheep), dingoes in these parts are simply cute and lovable—especially when they arrive as tiny pups, seven at a time, as they did here on January 30. That's when mom Naya and dad Mattie became proud parents to four male and three females-the first dingoes to be born at the zoo since 1988. Mattie and Naya are one of only about 75 pairs of pure dingoes worldwide (most have hybridized with domestic dogs). The litter of pups is notable not only for its size (most dingo litters have just three or four pups), but for its coloration. Most litters include only one type of coat and ninety percent of wild dingoes are ginger-colored like Mattie and Naya, but this litter included three ginger-colored pups, two cream-colored pups, and two black-and-tan pups. It took a while to come up with names for all seven (though they were nicknamed Chuck, Tiny, Polar Bear, Chippy, Dot, Blaze, and Streak). The keepers finally decided on names inspired by towns or parks in Australia: Mawson, Bunyip, Tingoora, Elsey, Airlie, Brumby and Yengo.


Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden, Evansville

$8.50, children 3-12 $7.50, children 2 and under free; 1545 Mesker Park Dr., Evansville; 812/435-6143;

Adding to the slight population of klipspringers in zoos across North America (which stands at about 30), this male calf was born on January 6. The baby, which is as of yet unnamed, will nurse for up to six months and then subsist on a diet of apples, carrots, greens, grapes, alfalfa, and zoo grains. Klipspringers are small, African, hoofed animals that are very surefooted and can easily navigate rocky terrain—and are appropriately named with the Afrikaan word for "rock jumper." They typically weigh about 40 pounds and stand an average of 22 inches tall (and males have horns that stand an additional 4 to 6 inches high). But, though they are small, they are big romantics-living monogamous lives, remaining within feet of their mate at all times, and taking turns eating and watching for predators.  



Lee Richardson Zoo, Garden City

Free to walk through, $10 vehicle charge to drive through; 312 E Finnup Dr., Garden City; 620/276-1250;

Black Goeldi's Monkey
These elfin South American primates are known for leaping from tree to tree, sometimes covering up to 13 feet in a single bound. But here, a pair named Domingo and Sucre took their leaping to new heights, diving into a romance after meeting through an "online dating service" (coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Callimico Species Survival Plan). And lo and behold, on February 12, they became proud parents to the zoo's newest addition. The baby, whose sex is yet to be determined, is difficult to see, as it's teensy—even the parents themselves weigh under a pound each—and has only just begun venturing off of mom Sucre's back, which it had been clinging to for two weeks. But it's sure to feel secure on its own in no time, as Sucre, say the zookeepers, "is showing excellent maternal instincts." The zoo is asking for the public's input on naming the baby, and has set up a spot on its website where folks can vote on a variety of keeper-chosen names: Tiago, Paz, or Mateo for a boy; Dania, Tadea, or Liliana for a girl.

Bactrian Camel
Camel couple Mona and Khan apparently don't believe there can be too much of a good thing, as they welcomed their eighth calf together on the morning of March 8. Described as "strong and feisty" by keeper Sara Niemczyk, the silver-grey baby girl stood nearly 5 feet tall and weighed 121 pounds (and will eventually reach 1,000!), and was quickly on its feet, nursing from mom. The infant, like most, has spent much of her time sleeping—often in strange and alarming positions (due the fact that camel babies are extremely flexible)! She remains unnamed, as the zoo is asking for public input on two keeper-chosen names: Mai and Tuya. This type of camel is endangered, with only 600 to 900 left in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. The Kansas weather is a little less severe, but the camels have adapted to harsh desert extremes, with coats that allow them to tolerate temperatures from 120 degrees to minus 16 degrees, while thick eyelashes and closable nostrils keep out blowing sand and broad flat feet support them on soft ground.



The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

From $14.50, children 2-11 from $10.50, children under 2 free; Druid Hill Park, Baltimore; 410/396-7102;

Jack and Nutmeg the African Penguins
It's been like a scene out of Happy Feet around here ever since parents Conan and Samantha Teapot (aka "The Teapots") welcomed baby boy Jack and sister Nutmeg on December 21 and 25, 2011—just a few months after having their first two chicks, Mako and Megamouth. Since poking their way out of their eggs, Jack and Nutmeg have begun to lose their fluffy gray juvenile feathers while they learned to swim, bonded with their siblings, and started being socialized with the rest of the 55 penguins. "Keepers will watch them very closely to make sure they are not being chased by curious adult penguins," explained a zoo publicist.


St. Louis Zoo

Free (children's zoo and other add-ons extra); 1 Government Dr., St. Louis; 314/781-0900;

Tundra the Mountain Bongo
Score one for another endangered species: the mountain bongo, an antelope subspecies that lives in just a few mountain forests in Kenya. That's because 52-pound Tundra was born here on December 27, 2011, to mom Kalani and dad Jinjo, his birth the result of a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Bongo Species Survival Plan, a cooperative breeding program that manages bongo in AZA zoos. And his existence will be a boon to the zoo's long-term antelope behavior research project, for which mom and infant will be recorded via time-lapse video, 24-7, for a full month.

Studebaker the Banteng Calf
Adding to the collection of bantengs named after carmakers (a tradition begun by the keepers at the parents' previous zoo homes), Studebaker, a 42-pound bull, arrived to mom Bentley and dad Knox on January 9. Studebaker was born with a beautiful red coat, but like with all males of this endangered species of shy wild Southeast Asia cattle, it will gradually darken to black by the time he reaches adulthood. He made his adorable public debut with his herd at Red Rocks on January 31, and, so far, has been sticking very close to mom.


Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse

$8, youth 3-18 $4, children 2 and under free; 1 Conservation Pl., Syracuse; 315/435-8511;

Humboldt's Penguin Chicks
Talk about your baby boom! A total of six penguin chicks have already hatched at this zoo in 2012. "It appears our mild winter weather started the breeding season a bit earlier than usual," said zoo director Ted Fox. The first chick of the year, born on January 9, hatched to parents Wylie and Mara, with four other penguin couples—Frederico and Poquita, Mario and Montana, Jake and Bianca, and Phil and Carmen—each welcoming their own in the weeks that followed. The youngest chick-who tripled in size in just its first nine days of life-was one of the fuzzy babes introduced at a press conference by county executive Joanie Mahoney, who cupped it in her hands and announced that she had named her Cocotea, for a Latin American flock of the species. She then invited the public to take part in a naming contest for two of the birds, and the zoo wound up receiving more than 1,100 suggestions; Alberto and Hota won in a vote from a list of finalists. Humboldt penguins are named after the Humboldt Current, a cold nutrient-rich ocean current that flows along the west coast of South America, and are endangered with only 12,000 to 30,000 remaining in the wild.

Ty the Patas Monkey
In honor of this cute new baby boy, the zoo has introduced a way to let the whole world watch Ty's progress: through a webcam, mounted over the trees and swinging rope bed where he and his pals climb, swing, play, and sleep. "We know our entire community shares in the joy whenever there is a new baby at the zoo," said Janet Agostini, president of Friends of the Zoo, which funded the webcam. "Our group of patas monkeys is very active, and this web cam will give people the chance to watch them as often as they'd like." Ty was born on January 17 to parents Sara and M.J. "Ty is Sara's first baby," said zoo director Ted Fox. "She has proven to be an excellent mother, no doubt due to the skills she learned by watching and assisting her mother, Addie, care for [siblings] D.J. and Kibibi over the past year." The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is one of only 15 American zoos to house patas monkeys, found in areas of Africa from the western rainforests through the savannahs of Kenya. They are one of the fastest primates, capable of reaching speeds upwards of 30 mph.



North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro

$12, children 2-12 $8, children 2 and under free; 4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro; 800/488-0444;

Ebi the Chimp
This new baby girl and her 41-year-old mom Tammy have been enjoying some serious mother-daughter time since Ebi was born on January 16. That's because Tammy—who gave birth to her last baby, Maki, in 1994—is caring for her infant on her own, without any intervention from staff members, and the two need time to bond. They also need to stay warm and cozy indoors, which is why these two won't be in the public eye until at least the start of summer, according to zoo general curator Ken Reininger. Ebi's already made her mark, though, as her birth brought the number of chimps here to a dozen, helping the troop here remain one of the largest in all U.S. zoos.



Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

From $15, children 2-12 from $10, children 2 and under free; 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati; 513/281-4700;

This perky foursome of two boys and two girls had better enjoy their newborn rest, as they'll soon be put to work as ambassadors. Deemed official Zoo Outreach Animals, they will spend their days traveling around to schools in the area to educate children about zoos and their species. The siblings, born on February 4 to mom Mali and dad Kenya, have not yet been named, and are for now being hand raised by the zoo's nursery keepers, who feed them four times daily with an easy-to-digest mixture of ground hedgehog feed and Esbilac formula. Hedgehogs, so-named for the pig-like grunting they do while hunting for food, are native to areas of Europe, Asia, and Africa. While they are covered with a coat of sharp spines that deter most predators, baby hedgehogs are born hairless and blind, and don't begin to sprout their prickly coat until 36 hours after birth.



Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

$10, children 2-13 $9, children under 2 free; 7340 Butler St., Pittsburgh; 412/665-3640;

Just like with human matchmaking, zoo-assisted mating is not an exact science. Moka, born at Zoo Miami, was brought here in 2007 in order to breed with troop leader Mrithi; but Moka was unimpressed, preferring her alone time and rebuffing all of the hairy stud's advances. Eventually, though, Mrithi won her over, and the couple's not-yet-named baby boy was born five years later on February 9. "Moka is a first-time mom, so we were anxious to see how she would handle motherhood, but she is doing a great job," notes Karen Vacco, assistant curator of mammals. Moka, she adds, loves to sit near the window in her exhibit, showing off her infant to oohing and aahing visitors. The first gorilla born here since 2001, this birth was an important one, as Mrithi comes from parents who were caught in the wild, making his genetics valuable to the endangered western lowland species. Mrithi has remained relaxed as a first-time dad, and the rest of the gorilla troop has been curious but respectful.



Virginia Zoo, Norfolk

$11, children 2-11 $9, children under 2 free; 3500 Granby St., Norfolk; 757/441-2374;

Squirrel Monkey
The adorable exhibit of squirrel monkeys is now more beloved than ever, thanks to a new baby, born February 18. Zookeepers discovered the tiny primate clinging to mom Marie's back early that morning, with proud papa Jeebes nearby. The baby's sex is still unknown, so zoo staffers are waiting before deciding on a name. Shy, skittish creatures native to Central American rainforests, squirrel monkeys spend most of their time in trees, eat primarily fruits and insects, and have, proportionately, the largest brain of all primates. "The squirrel monkey family is one of our most popular exhibits, particularly with children," said Greg Bockheim, the Zoo's executive director. "And they've been prolific; this is our 18th squirrel monkey born here since 1967. A squirrel monkey birth is a sure sign that spring is on its way."

Rio Cauca Caecilian
Decidedly less warm and fuzzy than the squirrel monkey, a slithery new amphibian also recently arrived here, born on December 20, 2011. The six-inch-long, limbless creature—which resembles a large earthworm or small snake, and is part of a species often called "blue worms"—was the first caecilian to be born at the zoo. It's being held in a separate holding tank until it reaches adult size (which could take months), and its sex is still unknown. The aquatic amphibians are native to parts of Colombia and Venezuela, where they live in drainage systems, rivers, marshes and lakes, and thrive in polluted water. Their eyes are small and covered by skin to protect them-hence their poor eyesight—but they have a keen sense of smell.



Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma

$14.50, children 5-12 $12.50, children 3-4 $8.25, children 2 and under free; 5400 N Pearl St., Tacoma; 253/305-1000;

Clouded Leopards
"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

Free; 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC; 202/

Guam Rails
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

Free; 702 S Randall Ave., Madison; 608/266-4732;

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.


Milwaukee County Zoo

From $11.75, children 3-12 from $8.75, children 2 and under free; 10001 West Blue Mound Rd., Milwaukee; 414/256-5412;

Gentoo Penguin
A new Gentoo penguin—native to Antarctic islands and known for its supremely quick swimming abilities (up to 22 miles an hour!)—hatched on February 2 to parents Olive and Felix. Though the little creature (whose sex is still unknown) weighed just 2.5 ounces at birth, it grew to 9.4 ounces in just its first week-thanks to Mom and Dad feeding it the traditional Gentoo way: regurgitation. Still, visitors may not be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the chick, since it's spent most of its time tucked underneath its parents. It should be standing on its own any minute, and could have its adult feathers by as early as late April.

Kiazi the Potto  
This baby potto is a rare one indeed: Born on December 23, 2011, Kiazi brings the population of pottos in North American zoos to 16. The tiny primate (whose sex will remain unknown until it develops further) is part of a nocturnal primate species native to tropical Africa that uses opposable thumbs to grasp onto trees. But not everyone has welcomed the creature with open arms: Kiazi was rejected by its mother (not an uncommon occurrence in zoos), and so keepers have been hand-raising the baby on a diet of yogurt, fruits and vegetables, wax worms, and special primate biscuits. That's helped the baby gain nearly 4 ounces since being born weighing less than an ounce. The baby has been spending part of each day in a separate crate within its mother's exhibit, which should help the two become familiar with each other. 


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