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.
Baby Otter at the Bronx Zoo
The New York City zoo welcomed a couple of newbies to its JungleWorld, and exhibit that highlights Asian jungle habitats. Along with a colony of Rodrigues fruit bats, an Asian small-clawed otter pup made its debut in late April.
Juno the Polar Bear at the Toronto Zoo
Earlier this year, we watched three-month-old Juno experience snow for the first time in a video that quickly went viral. Now, go see the little fluffball in real life at the Toronto Zoo. Viewing hours are from 11 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for the newly named mascot of the Canadian Armed Forces, so plan accordingly, and be sure to stop by to see the zoo’s other babies including a litter of white lions and Canada’s first giant panda cubs.
Rhino at the Toronto Zoo
Amur Leopard at the Pittsburgh Zoo
With fewer than 300 Amur Leopards left in the world, a new cub is certainly cause for celebration. Born February 4 at the Pittsburgh Zoo, this little kitty—they don’t yet know if it’s male or female—will likely be out in the yard (and visible to visitors) at the end of May.
Bowie the Penguin at the Cincinnati Zoo
In January of 2016, the Cincinnati Zoo named a penguin chick after David Bowie, as it had hatched on his birthday. Two days later, the name took on an additional meaning when the music legend passed away. Now, Bowie is one of 33 penguins in the colony with seven more eggs waiting to hatch. The whole crew will be on exhibit starting in the spring. After you’ve had your fill of the Starman, hop over to the zoo’s new hippo exhibit, or check out some of the city’s other zoo babies including gorillas, a takin (or gnu goat) pup, and Otto the potto.
Bei Bei at the the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Despite his name, Bei Bei isn’t exactly a baby (He was born in August of 2015, making him something of a toddler). But age is only a state of mind, right? And the giant panda cub is drawing fans from around the world to D.C.’s National Zoo. Admission is free, but if you can’t swing a trip to D.C. this year, you can always watch Bei Bei on the zoo’s live Panda Cam. Check it out here.
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