Modern technology has given us plenty of gifts (and plenty of gifs), but few of them can compare to the awe-inspiring magic of watching wild animals give birth to their adorable offspring from the comfort of our very own homes. Warning: Some of these videos get a little ... gooey.
The National Zoo loves to set up live cameras when they know one of their animals is expecting, and “celebrity” giant panda Mei Xiang was no exception. Panda pregnancies are notoriously hard to diagnose (they’re also hard to make happen), but Mei Xiang demonstrated classic signs of an actual pregnancy for weeks, and she delivered in a big way with the birth of a tiny cub on August 23. While her butter-stick-sized baby was followed by a stillborn twin the next day, all signs point to a healthy first cub.
The Prague Zoo trained a live camera on their beloved gorilla mom Kijivu when she gave birth to a tiny baby boy last December. The sixth gorilla born at the zoo (and the fourth for Kijivu and her mate Richard) entered the world in textbook fashion, with his mom giving birth with jaw-dropping efficiency and attention. Baby gorillas typically weigh 3 to 4 pounds at birth—half the weight of human babies.
3. Polar bears
Speaking of efficiency and attention, just imagine giving birth to two squealing polar bear cubs without assistance. That’s just what mama bear Huggies, of the Dutch Zoo Ouwehands Dierenpark, did in 2011 with her little cubs Siku and Sesi. Sure, it sounds like the babies are screaming bloody murder, but that’s just them expressing happiness at finally joining the world (we think). Here's a fun fact about polar bear reproduction: Females are induced ovulators—it's intercourse that causes their ovaries to release an egg.
The Prague Zoo broke out their live camera equipment again this February when it came time for elephant mama Donna to give birth to the zoo’s very first baby. A relatively “quick” delivery (around five hours) ended with the breathtaking birth of little Sita. Research shows that elephants stay pregnant for 680 days—the longest gestational period of any creature on earth—to allow babies' brains to develop enough that they can survive from birth.
Elephant births are impressive enough, but even they can’t compare to giraffe births—especially when they take place in full view of an entire zoo full of gawkers. The Memphis Zoo welcomed baby Kofi back in August of 2008, and his birth to mom Marilyn is one of the most amazing live births ever captured on video. In just four and a half minutes, it shows the entire thing, and while there are some very tense moments, it pays off big time. Fun fact: Pregnant giraffes often return to the calving ground where they were born to give birth themselves.
If you’re ready to really get in there, Tiger Canyons offers up a long look at tigress Shadow as she gives birth to multiple cubs at some very close angles. (A typical tiger litter is two or three cubs, which weigh about 2 pounds each.) The brainchild of controversial conservationist John Varty, Tiger Canyons is a Bengal tiger “re-wilding” project started back in 2000. While his methods have been criticized, Varty's ability to capture stunning live birth video is unparalleled.
7. Black bear
Though you can’t see too much when it comes to Hope the black bear’s live birth from back in 2010, what the video lacks in clear visuals it more than makes up for with boggling veracity. Mom Lily didn’t give birth to baby Hope in a zoo or on a private reserve—she gave birth in her own den in Ely, Montana, one that was outfitted with a camera by the Wildlife Research Institute in order to continue their ongoing study of Lily and her clan. Born in winter, the cubs are blind and helpless at birth and stay in the den until spring. They'll stick with mom for two years before striking off on their own.
The San Diego Zoo welcomed a river hippo calf back in January of 2011 in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delivery. Much like the delivery of baby giraffe Kofi, hippo mom Funani gave birth to little Adhama in front of a large crowd of onlookers, none of which seemed to bother her or the bobbing calf in the slightest. Momma hippos can give birth in the water or on land, but if the baby is born in the water, the mother must push it to the surface to breathe—newborns can only hold their breath for about 40 seconds (which increases to 30 minutes as adults).
Hawaiian dolphin mom Keo gave birth to her very first calf back in September of last year in an environment she must have been quite comfortable with—she too was born and raised at Waikoloa Village’s Dolphin Quest. With trainers at the ready to help and record, the star steadily delivered baby Hali'a, the first second-generation dolphin born at the facility, and reportedly a star from the moment she first started swimming. Humans assisted this birth, but did you know that dolphins are also available to assist human births?
The Bristol Zoo had a very good Christmas Eve back in 2010, a holiday marked by the birth of two critically endangered Asiatic lion cubs. It was the first birth for mom Shiva, who gave the zoo its first lion cubs in over a decade when she delivered male Jayendra (“Jay” for short) and female Kalyana (“Kaly” for short). Two years later, she had yet another set of twins, males Kamran and Ketan. A lion's gestation period is 3.5 months, and litters are between one and six cubs. Sadly, in the wild, 60 to 70 percent of cubs die before they make it to a year.
Seahorses are an extreme rarity in the animal kingdom—they’re one of the very few species in which the male both incubates the eggs and then actually gives birth to their offspring. Their birthing is serious business: Each delivery can spawn up to 1800 babies. While we don’t know any particulars about this seahorse daddy, we do know he’s a champion.