Baby boom! Columbus Zoo celebrates births of red panda cubs, giraffe calf and more

Welcome to the world, little ones!

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is celebrating the arrival of several baby animals over the past month, including a Masai giraffe calf, two red panda cubs, a sea lion pup and a siamang, a type of small ape.

Not only are they adorable, these babies are also contributing to the survival of their species, which all face significant challenges in the wild.

“All of the species with the exception of the sea lions are endangered species,” Doug Warmolts, vice president of animal care at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, told TODAY. “Their numbers are very low for a variety of different reasons,” including deforestation and climate change.

Two red panda cubs, as yet unnamed, were born on June 13 to first-time parents Kora and Gen Tso. Their mother is currently nursing them, and they may make their first public appearance in about four months when they emerge from their nest, the zoo said in a press release.

There are fewer than 10,000 red pandas remaining in the wild, and the species faces serious threats from illegal hunting and habitat loss. With so few members of the species remaining, every birth is important, Warmolts says.

“Some of these, like the red pandas, are a species that we worked very hard to get pairings just right and introductions of males and females just right,” he told TODAY. “They’re a challenging species to breed in human care, so we’re just thrilled that they were successful.”

Meanwhile, a sea lion pup was born on June 25, making history as the first of its kind born at the Columbus Zoo. The pup is currently living in a behind-the-scenes area of the zoo so that it can focus on bonding with its mother, Lovell.

Although California sea lions are not endangered, the species faces significant challenges. Climate change is forcing sea lion mothers to hunt farther from shore, which can lead them to abandon their pups.

All the newborn babies have been thriving during the first month of their lives, which Warmolts explains is an especially critical time for animals.

“The first 30 days of life or so is always something we watch and monitor very closely,” he said. “Just like humans, that’s a very vulnerable time in the life of that individual. And so we’re thrilled, optimistic that it’s happened.”

The Columbus Zoo also welcomed a Masai giraffe calf on June 28 to parents Enzi and Zuri. The calf appears healthy, and zookeepers are giving it some time to bond with its mom before examining it more closely to do a wellness check and find out whether it’s male or female.

The zoo also welcomed an adorable baby siamang, a species of gibbon, or lesser ape, on May 29. The little one’s sex is unknown and it has not yet been named, but it has been spotted snuggling and swinging around its enclosure with its mother, Olga.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was closed for months due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and reopened last month with social distancing measures in place as well as significant caps on daily visitors.

Warmolts says he hopes that as COVID-19 concerns eventually ease, more people will have the chance to appreciate these baby animals in person.

“The only regret I have is that more people can’t come right now and enjoy it,” he said.