What makes a good baby picture? On ZooBorns.com, the babies have to be wild. Maybe obscure. Possibly endangered. Mostly, they have to be cute. "Cute always comes first," said Chris Eastland, an artist and photographer from Brooklyn, N.Y., who joined forces with Andrew Bleiman of Chicago to create ZooBorns.com two years ago.
Their website delivers birth announcements from zoos and aquariums around the world, and gets about a million hits a month.
The men are publishing a pair of hardcover books through Simon & Schuster — ZooBorns! a 32-page children's book released recently, and a longer book for all ages also called ZooBorns, out last week. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums gets 10 percent from sales.
"It's win, win, win for us," said Jill Nicoll, the association's senior vice president of marketing. The group benefits not just because of the royalties, but because promoting zoo babies is good for the conservation cause. "And, it's cute," she added.
Bleiman hasn't counted since summer, but as of then, they had featured around 600 births from 165 different species.
"The all-time most popular post was the fennec fox," Eastland said. Radar Ears, from Seoul, is on the cover of one 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 a big hit and Eastland likes polar bear and panda cubs because of the obvious message. 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.
"It's hard to engage people in the conservation side of this," Eastland said, "but it is our biggest message and we try to deliver it through adorableness."