If you’re reading this, you probably love to travel. And if you’re a rational human being with the ability to see, you definitely love cute baby animals. You know, the ones whose faces are so endearing you just want to squish them? But you are also a smart, responsible tourist who maintains a safe distance, and are also aware that some of them (or their protective mamas) might bite your hand off?
Ah, the dilemmas of an adoring traveler.
There are few travel experiences as rewarding as those that involve wildlife, and seeing a mother interact with her babies in the wild is definitely one of those moments that can make time stand still. We humans are only a sliver of the living beings on this planet, and we are blessed with many opportunities to view animals in their natural habitat—so it is our responsibility to ensure we are doing so with care, respect, and responsibility as we admire Mother Nature’s incredible inhabitants.
So get your bucket list ready and prepare to “aww” your way through this article because we have got some oh-so-pinchable cheeks coming your way (but don’t actually pinch them, remember? Please try to keep up, people).
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There is no animal that screams “cuddle me” more than a baby alpaca. Absolutely none.
Their fluffy wool, squinty eyes, snuffly noses, and perpetually smiling mouths make them a 10 out of 10 on the cute scale. Living in the wild in the Andean mountains, alpacas are also raised domestically for their meat or wool and their docile nature makes them approachable as a photo attraction. You can find them adorned in vibrantly colored decor like their cholita owners in the tourist hubs of Peru or Bolivia, where tourists can even get up close for a respectful pet, cuddle, or selfie if they wish.
If a close encounter is what you seek, ensure that your tourism dollars are going towards the fair treatment of these animals by doing your research and asking trusted locals before approaching them.
Mountain gorillas are some of the most powerful creatures in the world, clocking in at up to 15 times as strong as humans, so it’s natural to feel a little apprehensive when in their presence of the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. But seeing their little toddlers tumble about the jungle, jumping up for a piggyback, swinging from the trees, and plucking leaves off branches, is one of the most awe-inducing shows that Africa hosts.
Many describe gorilla trekking as a life-changing experience, and a large part of this is due to their resemblance to us human beings—we share 98% of the same DNA. Looking into the eyes of a gorilla youngster is like looking at a toddler of our own species, except hairier, more leathery, and smellier (in most cases).
INSIDER TIPWhen trekking, wear high boots and long pants, and bring plenty of water—the way to the gorillas is through thick bush and your hike duration depends on where the gorillas are at the time, which can be quite lengthy.
Newly hatched turtles waddling out to their new life at sea will pull on your heartstrings for reasons well beyond their cuteness (although how adorable are those scurrying little legs?). It is estimated that only one in a 1,000 turtles return to the same beach to lay eggs, with the rest falling victim to pollution, fishing, predators, currents, and other obstacles, so you will find yourself rooting for the little guys as they bravely scramble out against the odds.
There are organized releases of baby sea turtles across beaches such as Guatemala’s El Paredon, Turtle Island off Borneo, and Sayulita in Mexico, so do your research to find a credible conservation center, spectate from a safe distance, and soak in the cuteness!
These sluggish, permanently smiling creatures are adorable at any age, but a baby sloth clutching onto its mama as she gradually maneuvers through the trees is enough to make anyone’s heart melt. Maybe their charm comes from the fact that they are the slowest animals on Earth, so if you’re lucky enough to spot a sloth you can actually take time to appreciate its cuteness.
The baby stays with its mother for about six months, hugging her belly as she maneuvers very… very… slowly… through the tree canopy. Although deforestation is posing a threat to their habitats, sloths can be found in tropical forests throughout Central and South America. Next time you’re in the region, make sure to keep your eyes up for these smiling faces!
Though they grow up to be the most elegant and graceful surveyors of the savanna, in their childhood, giraffes are just getting the hang of things. Watching a baby giraffe testing out its lanky limbs while it mimics its mother is an adorable and endearing process. As they grow into their ears and legs, baby giraffes already rep the signature patterns that make these animals stand out amongst their African peers.
Sadly, many of the giraffe’s nine subspecies are in a vulnerable state due to poaching and humans encroaching on their homeland, with the Masai and reticulated giraffes classified as endangered and the Nubian and Kordofan giraffes critically endangered. Efforts to save this beautiful species include supporting sustainable land practices and anti-poaching initiatives. So help where you can, and on your next safari, appreciate these little cuties a little extra from afar!
INSIDER TIPThese herbivores are not aggressive towards humans, so one of the best ways to experience them is by getting a close-up look on a walking safari.
Baby seals are some of the cutest animals on the planet due to their doe eyes, whiskered cheeks, floppy bodies, and inquisitive personalities.
If you want to see them in action underwater, snorkel with the Cape Fur Seals, known as the “dogs of the sea,” in South Africa’s Hout Bay or Plettenberg Bay. These playful underwater acrobats are as spunky as they are curious.
For the ultimate dose of cuteness, you’ve got to go for something fluffy: Harp Seals are covered in white fur and found on the ice or the cold waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Their white coats turn to light grey in adulthood, so their optimal cute level is definitely while they’re young.
For many of us, Disney was the perpetual theme of our childhood, and The Lion King is the ultimate source of baby animal inspiration. Seeing a pride of baby Simbas or Nalas in real life is sure to deliver a warm and fuzzy wave of nostalgia.
The lion’s innate disposition as the King of Pride Rock—also known as the top predator on the savanna—means that the mischievous little cubs are already coming into their ferocious selves, and it is adorable to watch. Cute, fuzzy, and playful, the baby lions are slowly perfecting their paw-eye coordination and rumbling roar until they become dominant hunters like their parents.
Another animal that wears a constant smile and inflicts happiness onto all that cross its path is the quokka. Native to Western Australia with their largest population on Rottnest Island, these marsupials have been dubbed the “World’s Happiest Animal.” Their young, or joeys, stay tucked into their pouch until they’re old enough to take on the world at around six months, and that smiling little face peeking out of the pouch is pure joy.
Sad but potentially evolutionary fact: Quokka mothers are known to sacrifice their babies if they are feeling threatened by a predator, prompting some claims that they “toss their babies at predators.” While this certainly seems like poor motherhood to us humans, studies show that the mother is a proven breeder while the baby may be infertile, so it may be a tactic of evolutionary preservation for the species.
Either way, they are adorable and we are rooting for them, so let’s just take a minute to smile at that smile.
INSIDER TIPIt’s forbidden to pet or feed quokkas, so take your selfies from afar and let them do any approaching.
“Orangutan” literally translates as “person of the forest,” and it makes sense—we share almost 97% of the same DNA. Baby orangutans are hilariously humanlike, sticking by their mamas as they swing across branches and dine on their vegan surroundings. They have the ability to think, reason, and show emotion, so like ourselves, the babies will whimper when hungry or smile at their loving mama. How relatable is that?!
Unfortunately, these scruffy red apes are endangered and continue to face threats due to deforestation for palm oil plantations, logging, and poaching. Visit them at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo or Frankfurt Zoological Society’s Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sumatra, or try your hand at spotting them in the wild in the forests of these two islands.
INSIDER TIPThe optimal times to view orangutans at Sepilok are during their feedings at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.—they can’t resist mealtime.
Koalas love to cuddle both each other and tree branches, and their fuzzy bodies, round ears, and button noses make us want to snuggle them right back. The joey lives in its mother’s pouch until around six months of age, fully coming into its cuteness when it ventures out into the world via its mother’s back. From here, koalas can be found munching on eucalyptus leaves or sleeping, which they do up to 22 hours per day.
Australia’s national treasure, koalas can be spotted in the wild by chance, but the most reliable places to see these cuties include Koala Conservation Center outside of Melbourne, Koala Park Sanctuary by Sydney, or Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane. If you can’t resist the cuddle, please do your research to ensure that you are supporting a reputable and sustainable center.
Baby elephants are curious and clumsy, with big, floppy, fan-shaped ears. They can be found scurrying, stumbling, and skipping amongst their mother’s legs as they meander from water hole to water hole.
Just as human babies become extremely fascinated when they discover a new body part, baby elephants put in some serious work to get the hang of their trunks, moving them about as they swing, swish, step, and even suck on them.
INSIDER TIPIf you come across a baby elephant on a self-drive safari, maintain an extra safe distance because the mama will not be happy if you get too close.
A panda bear has got to be the closest thing to a living, breathing stuffed animal. These cuddly creatures are native to China and can be seen in the wild (if fortune is on your side) in the remote mountainous regions of the Sichuan Province, or conservation centers such as Giant Panda Breeding Research Base or National Bifengxia Panda Reserve. Their black eye patches, squishy fluffy bodies, and curious and playful natures make them an absolutely adorable animal.
Baby pandas are incredibly tiny, measuring 0.2 pounds and 1/900th the size of their mothers at birth. They start to get their signature black and white coats around three weeks, and this is when their cuteness really starts to set in. Around six months, they will be munching on bamboo, playing with their mothers, and tumbling about like a fluffy toddler and you won’t be able to contain yourself.