Watch the video of the wobbly legged, cinnamon-tufted, brand-new-to-the-world bison calf and then just try to remember what was stressing you out. The grass-nibbling newborn, awkwardly standing in the mountain-rimmed plains, is visual diazepam, not to mention the firstborn of the season at Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. More than 400 other baby bison are expected to follow by mid-May, bringing the park’s bison population to about 1,300.
Since the March 22 birth was announced, Mark Hendrix, Custer’s resource program manager, says he’s seen an increase in visitors seeking a dose of baby animal cuteness. Animal viewing is the No. 1 reason that visitors go to the park, and odds are good they’ll catch a glimpse of the bison herd when driving Wildlife Loop Road, an 18-mile paved path that circles through wide-open prairie and rolling hills. There, spotting bison isn’t generally a matter of luck, Hendrix says. Rather, “It’s more your unlucky day if you don’t see one,” he says.
That’s not the only animal population that will be growing this spring at the park. In addition, Hendrix says that into summer, visitors will be able to spot be newly minted white-tailed deer and mule deer, baby pronghorn antelope, elk calves and bighorn lambs. “As far as the little ones go, it should be a great year,” Hendrix says. “We’ve been really wet this spring, a lot of moisture, so we should have a lot of green grass for all the wildlife that’ll be born in the park this year.”
Springtime means the baby animal “awws” are on overload. Here are just a few of the parks, zoos and farms where you might be able to get a glimpse of all the adorability. (From a significant distance, that is; you should never approach wildlife in the wild, no matter what age).
The lodges begin opening the last weekend of April, and tourists slowly stream into the park, which is located in Wyoming as well as Montana and Idaho, and is home to the most free-roaming wildlife of any of the Lower 48 states. This year, visitors can be on the lookout for bison calves (born April to May), elk calves (born May to June) and bighorn lambs (born in May); and black bears and grizzly bears born in the winter will finally peek out of the den with their mothers around April or May. To up your odds of spotting some babies, head to the Northern Range of Yellowstone, including Lamar Valley, which has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the park. A number of park tours are available, including the Wake Up to Wildlife tour, starting in late May, which features a guide driving visitors by bus to the animal action.
“Super colonies” of wading birds are forming in Everglades National Park for the first time since the 1940s. A super colony refers to tens of thousands of nesting birds, and at this wetlands preserve in Florida, those include egrets, herons, Roseate spoonbills, wood storks and more. Officials expect the birds will have many mouths to feed this spring. Visitors can view the birds with binoculars from the Shark Valley Tower and at the Anhinga Trail. While in the park, keep your eye out for baby river otters. Sightings have been reported, but the animals tend to be pretty reclusive. Also, be on the lookout for young alligators plodding around. Visitors, including babies, are cautioned to remain a safe distance of at least 15 feet from any wildlife in the park.
In the Alaskan wilderness, winter tends to take its time, and so baby animals frequently arrive later at Denali National Park than in the Lower 48. Many young animals experience their first breath as the busy summer season begins picking up. Bus tours (from $90 for adults and from $40 for children), which begin May 9, are the best way to safely spot wildlife in the summer, because private vehicles are prohibited in much of the park. If you go, look for moose and caribou calves, Dall lambs and gray wolf pups, all of which are born in May or June; and grizzly and black-bears cubs, which are born in January or February.
It’s babies everywhere at the nation’s zoos. In late March, the Denver Zoo welcomed a bright-eyed Sumatran orangutan, which is a critically endangered species. Her name is Cerah, which means “bright” in Indonesian. Also new to Denver Zoo: four bouncing, bounding African wild dogs. The endangered pups were born in November, and only recently entered their habitat for viewing. And a Linne’s two-toed sloth, born in late January (named Baby Ruth), has been a huge hit with visitors. The Indianapolis Zoo is home to three new critically endangered babies: two are ring-tailed lemurs, born March 14. And then there’s Carina, a sweet-looking addra gazelle calf that zookeepers have bottle-fed and cared for because her mom didn’t show any of interest. At the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, visitors can peep at a tiny chocolate-colored reindeer. The fawn was just 12 pounds when she was born April 2, and is growing quickly. A downy African penguin chick hatched in February at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. It’s the first of the endangered species to hatch and be reared at the zoo. After 13 weeks in the den at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, twin sloth bear cubs — which, true to their name, look like a bear crossed with a sloth — moved out on exhibit, so now the public can peek in on their antics.
To keep tabs on what animals are born where, visit ZooBorns.com, which shares baby animal news from zoos and aquariums across the world.
Baby animals and spring go hand in hand at scores of farms. Mountain Flower Goat Dairy in Boulder invites visitors in during the lunch hour to meet, snuggle and bottle-feed their newborn kids ($20). The farm also offers goat yoga classes, with bottle-feeding as an add-on option in the morning ($40). Also in Colorado, the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation in Castle Rock offers Farm Baby Tours April-June. Visitors can tour the working ranch and coo at calves, baby lambs, chicks, piglets and more ($5 to $10). The motto at Govin’s Farm in Menomonie, Wis., is, “if it fits in your lap, we will help you hold it.” Bouncing babies include lambs, piglets, calves, goats, chicks, and more ($7.82). In the “Lambing Barn,” you might even see a lamb birth. Sure, Grant’s Farm in St. Louis has a deep history as the former property of President Ulysses S. Grant, later bought by the Busch family of Anheuser-Busch fame. But some of us are drawn more to its animals, including goats — in particular, the dozens of bouncing kids that guests can bottle-feed (admission is free; bottles cost $1.50).
A glimpse of a baby animal can melt even the crustiest cynic. Whether you’re keeping your distance from a baby gator, or bottle-feeding a sprightly baby goat, it’s sure to make for a memorable trip.
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @K8Silver.
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