All together now: Awwwwwwwwwww

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's cuter than a newborn baby? How about a newborn tiger teething on his brother? Or a newborn otter going for a swim in an inflatable pool? Or a chimpanzee drinking milk from a baby bottle?

You can see all of those animals - and lots, lots more - at a Web site that announces the births of animals at zoos and aquariums around the world.

The seven lion cubs at the National Zoo were featured there not too long ago.

So how do the creators of decide whether an animal is featured on their site?

"Cute always comes first," said Chris Eastland, a New York artist and photographer who joined forces with Andrew Bleiman of Chicago to create two years ago.

Their Web site spotlights newborn animals at zoos and aquariums around the world, and it gets about a million hits a month.

Now the Web site is making books of beautiful baby animals. There is a 32-page book for younger kids and a longer book for all ages. Both are called "ZooBorns."

But the books and Web site aren't just for entertainment. The goal is to make people care enough about the animals that they will become interested in conservation. Even buying a book can help: The Association of Zoos and Aquariums gets 10 percent of book sales.

Bleiman hasn't counted since summer, but as of then, the site had featured about 600 births from 165 species.

The great thing about animals, he said, is that there are so many species. "There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of insect species alone," he said. "There are plenty of species left to share." So are some animal births too ugly to make the cute cut?

"We don't do a lot of insect larvae or spiders," he said. The site did post the July birth of a caecilian, a legless amphibian, at the Tennessee Aquarium. "Some people found it creepy-crawly, and others were fascinated," Bleiman said. "We show ugly birds all the time."

They also hold off on some announcements, waiting for cuteness to settle in. Baby pandas are a good example, Eastland said. They are born pink, furless and no bigger than a stick of butter. But by about 4 months, they are melting hearts.

"The all-time most popular post was the fennec fox," Eastland said. Fennec fox Radar Ears, from South Korea, is on the cover of the all-ages book and inside the other. A Bengal tiger made the cover of the children's book, and its twin is inside.

Lions and tigers are always big hits, and Eastland likes polar bear and panda cubs because of the message about saving threatened animals. But at ZooBorns, the success of any photo depends on how many w's people put at the end of the word aw, Eastman said.

- From staff and wire reports

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