In August of 2013, the world was stricken by Bao Bao Fever. So incredibly cute was the National Zoo's new giant panda cub that nine-to-fivers inexplicably cooed at their co-workers. Precious man hours were lost as Facebook feeds were jammed with photos and rallies in an online naming contest. A Panda Cam caused many a sleepless night.
But with those big eyes, that soft fur, that huggable body—how could we possibly resist?
As Bao Bao continues her transition from doe-eyed cub into tree-climbing toddler, drawing thousands of visitors a day, we're on high alert for what the next big zoo baby sensation will be. Could it be Humphrey Piujuq, the Toronto Zoo's fuzzy polar bear cub who inspired his own naming competition (and delightful video reveal)? Or does Linne the two-toed sloth have the (sleepy) upper hand in Texas? Charles the gray seal could very well splash the competition from Chicago—but Bao Bao better watch it with two yet-to-be-exhibited litters of African lion cubs on her home turf in D.C.
In this cute competition, every animal is a winner. "The best zoos use this rare opportunity to forge connections between humans and wild animals, building empathy and educating people about ways to help," says Andrew Bleiman of the baby animal blog ZooBorns.
So with conservation—and, okay, coffee breaks—on the mind, we present a hot list of cute baby animals in zoos all across America. Some have made their debut, some will make it later, but all are guaranteed to make you squee.
Jelani, Baako, Sanjo, and Nayo, Lions, Reid Park Zoo, Tucson, AZ
African lions Kaya and Shombay welcomed a huge litter back in December. Now, after several weeks in a private "cub den" nursing with mom, the four "simbas"—three boys (Jelani, Baako, Sanjo) and one girl (Nayo)—will reunite with Pop and finally meet their adoring public for the first time. Though they currently weigh around 20 pounds, the cubs are expected to grow to 200–500 pounds in the next three years. Until then, they'll stay under the watchful protection of Kaya, who'll feed them and teach them how to hunt. reidparkzoo.org
Angolan Colobus Monkeys, Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, FL
Though only a few months old, the two adorable new additions to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo are already on exhibit. Moms Whittney and August gave birth to infants only a few days apart (father Grimaldi gets around). Since Angolan colobuses have such a tight-knit social community, the fuzzy all-white offspring haven't left their mothers' arms in Primate World, although their coats will soon start to darken. You can keep up with the as-yet-to-be-named monkeys—and other cute baby animals—on the zoo's dedicated Zoo Babies page. lowryparkzoo.com
Humphrey Piujuq, Polar Bear, Toronto Zoo
There is nothing ferocious about this fuzzy ball of cuteness that recently made his debut in the Toronto Zoo's 10-acre Tundra Trek. The playful cub, brother to two-year-old zoo celebrity Hudson, was forced into intensive care following birth complications but has made a full recovery. More than 14,000 people helped pick his name in a Coca-Cola–sponsored contest (natch), and now you can follow every move of little Mr. Humphrey "Good and Nice" (the translation of his second, Inuit name, Piujuq), including his first steps on snow and his first "words." torontozoo.com
Duncan, Asian Elephant, Houston Zoo
At 385 pounds, Asian elephant Duncan is one of 2014's biggest babies. And yet that is nothing compared to his 24-year-old, multi-ton mama Shanti, who has hardly left little Duncan's side since his birth on February 7. It took all eight members of the zoo’s elephant care team, plus zoo veterinarians and technicians, to deliver the calf after 23 months of pregnancy. Luckily, the healthy boy has shown great progress and has already made his muddy debut, splashing around with 48-year-old papa Thai in the Houston Zoo's McNair Asian Elephant Habitat. He is expected to make more regular appearances once the weather improves. houstonzoo.org
Griffin, Reticulated Giraffe, Birmingham Zoo, AL
Bouncing baby Griffin has the proud distinction of being North America's first baby giraffe of 2014, born just after the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve (leaving Baridi, the Houston Zoo's two-month-old Masai giraffe, seen here, jealous). The six-foot-four-inch calf is a popular boy, having already been the subject of an online naming contest. But don’t worry, he isn’t getting too cocky; though zookeepers say he takes after his father, Jalil, he is really a mama’s boy at heart. He can already be seen in the zoo's Savannah Yard running and nursing with mama Willow. birminghamzoo.com
Linne, Linnaeus’ Two-Toed Sloth, Ellen Trout Zoo, Lufkin, TX
The fifth child of parents native to South America, little baby sloth Linne (born January 16) doesn't do much but lie around on Mom—after all, he's a sloth. The 1 ¼-pound cutie has already shown a fondness for grapes and will eventually be an excellent swimmer. cityoflufkin.com
Sochi, Amur Leopard, Denver Zoo
Named Sochi in honor of the 2014 Winter Olympics host city, the Denver Zoo's four-month-old cub is a champion of the zoo's Feline Building—and one of the world's most critically endangered species. There are fewer than 50 cats left in the wild (native to southeastern Russia and northeastern China), but thanks to breeding programs there are now an additional 95 Amur leopards in North American zoos. The newborn is already going for the gold in climbing (and adorableness) and is certain to make mama Dazma and papa Hari-Kari proud. denverzoo.org
Luna, Baird’s Tapir, Palm Beach Zoo, West Palm Beach, FL
Central America's Baird's tapir might not be the most cuddly looking baby, with its piglike build and stubby elephant-like trunk. But these distant relatives of horses and rhinos are incredibly playful—try not to squee during this baby tapir video—especially mama Alyssa's baby Luna, whose celestial name was chosen by the students at the nearby Palmetto Elementary School. The two-month-old calf, who loves bananas and sweet potatoes, will be an excellent swimmer and may eventually grow to be eight feet long. West Coast fans of these adorable little animals should keep their eyes on the Denver Zoo's Toyota Elephant Passage, where Malayan tapir Rinny is expecting a calf later this spring. palmbeachzoo.org