Photograph by Doug Gimesy
Photograph by Doug Gimesy

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

Today, I want the Animals newsletter to be a palate cleanser for you. We’ve got a pandemic, hurricanes, and wildfires (both natural and political) raging—but we also have rescued baby wombats and a new baby panda. These little ones are cute in their own right, but it’s also nice to pause and appreciate new animal life amid a world of turmoil, and the humans who are stepping up to protect it.

Take Emily Small, in Melbourne. A wildlife rehabilitator, she’s raising three orphaned wombat joeys in her one-bedroom apartment (pictured above), because pandemic travel restrictions prevented her from going back and forth to the wombat orphanage she founded, 280 miles away. Photographer Doug Gimsey spent time chronicling Small and her ‘round-the-clock care of Landon (pictured with Small above), Bronson, and Beatrice. If you want to smile, do not miss this story by Misha Jones.

And in Washington, D.C., we have a new giant panda cub. Mei Xiang gave birth last Friday to a hairless, blind, teeny little cub, just over a week after the National Zoo announced she was likely pregnant (apparently it’s really hard to tell with pandas!). We don’t have any close-ups of the youngster yet, but you can watch Mei Xiang nurse and snuggle with the baby on the zoo’s live camera feed.

On the off-chance baby wombats and a baby panda weren’t enough to make you crack a smile, I’ll just leave you with these stories on baby sloths, bats, giraffes, pandas, turtle hatchlings, and kangaroo joeys.

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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Cute—and endangered: The Atlas Mountains in Morocco are home to the endangered Barbary macaques. This parent and child were attracting tourists near Ifrane National Park. The park, with its Atlas cedar forests, is home to this species—the only macaques living outside Asia. Their thick fur and intelligent eyes attract passing travelers who, if not careful, could get their drinks and food stolen by these clever primates.

Subscriber exclusive: Long revered, these Japan snow monkeys now make circus-like performances

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Today in a minute

Slamming Louisiana: Hurricane Laura hit southwestern Louisiana as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph peak winds, one of the strongest hurricanes to strike the area in decades. More than 500,000 people were evacuated from eastern Texas to southern Mississippi for Laura ahead of the wind and a storm surge. The hurricane has weakened this morning as it moved inland, but still had 100 mph sustained winds Thursday morning, Nat Geo's Laura Parker and Sarah Gibbens report.

Related: How to save your pet's life in a natural disaster

Put on hold
: Blame COVID-19 for the delay in trying to save Brazil’s golden lion tamarin. After yellow fever killed about 30 percent of the remaining bright orange monkeys, researchers developed a vaccine. But they’d been halted for seven months by the government, which is battling the coronavirus. (After the delay, the researchers finally got approval to begin vaccinations in September.) They hope to vaccinate 500 of the monkeys, which they consider a minimum to save the species, Jill Langlois writes.

Cattle have feelings, too: Many humans may see them primarily as a food source, but cattle practice complex social dynamics, including grooming to reinforce social relationships. After a new study on these relationships, the Christian Science Monitor writes: “The more scientists study their social interactions, the more it seems that cattle, like humans, need to feel connected to others."

The big takeaway

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Virgin births: In the animal world, they are no big deal. The process, called parthenogenesis, happens to creatures from honey bees to rattlesnakes. In parthenogenesis, the body finds a unique way of filling in for the genes usually provided by sperm. Ergo, baby zebra sharks, Komodo dragons (pictured above), and pythons have appeared in only-female zoo enclosures, startling their keepers, Corryn Wetzel writes for Nat Geo.

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The last glimpse

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How? Animal species so far with COVID-19: lions, tigers, domestic cats, dogs, mink. The virus was passed along by infected owners, handlers, or farmhands. Still, although the virus originally came to humans from an animal, very few animals have been recorded having it, Natasha Daly reports for the latest National Geographic magazine. If the virus that humans are spreading were a significant threat to animal health, she writes, we’d know by now.

Subscriber exclusive: How COVID-19 has struck the animal kingdom so far

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse and production help from Kimberly Pecoraro. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading.