What voyeuristic type of website has millions of Internet viewers flocking to watch? No, it's not what you think; these viewers are tuning in to watch live animal cams. Zoos and other animal conservation groups are broadcasting live footage of many different animals — from majestic bald eagles to too-cute black-footed ferrets — and people all over the world can't seem to get enough.
One wildly popular animal cam is Raptor Resource Project's Decorah eagle cam. The Iowa nonprofit specializes in the preservation of birds, and it aims to "establish and strengthen breeding populations ... by creating, improving and maintaining nests and nest sites."
In late February 2011, a bald eagle laid eggs in a nest 80 feet up in the air, with a live video feed capturing her every move. She and her mate have been taking turns incubating the eggs. According to RRP Executive Director Bob Anderson, "The world loves it." Millions of viewers watched in early April as each of the chicks hatched over the course of five days.
Zoo Atlanta's pandas
Nothing brings in the viewers like a new baby animal. In November 2010, one of Zoo Atlanta's resident giant pandas gave birth to a baby boy. Po, named after Jack Black's character in "Kung Fu Panda," knows how to draw a crowd. Jack Black himself attended the Zoo Atlanta naming event and even revealed the name.
The panda cam is available to viewers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Zoo staff update the panda cam site almost daily, with thorough, entertaining entries about each of the pandas' activities.
National Zoo's black-footed ferrets
The National Zoo has been breeding black-footed ferrets for more than 20 years, an effort to bring them back from the brink of extinction. These small mammals had a banner year in 2010 — dozens of litters were born to several mothers, and it was all available for public viewing on the ferret cam.
National Zoo's giant Pacific octopus
Also at the National Zoo, viewers can watch an even more unusual animal on camera: the giant Pacific octopus. These mollusks grow quickly — people have tuned in online to watch a creature that's the size of a grain of rice at birth grow to weigh more than 100 pounds. Alan Peters, the zoo's curator of invertebrates, fittingly called the giant Pacific octopus "the giant panda of invertebrates" because it gets the most attention of animals in that group.
The National Zoo's website offers a dozen other animal cams including cheetahs, clouded leopards, flamingos, gorillas, lions, naked mole-rats, sloth bears, kiwis and more.
Oregon Humane Society's robotic cat playroom
As if watching animals wasn't enough, the Oregon Humane Society allows viewers to play with cats that are available for adoption. Users visit the site, are given an approximate wait time, and then have a two-minute window to play with the cats by clicking on buttons that control toys in the room with the cats.
The kitties seem to be used to the toys constantly fluttering around them — and may not be very responsive at times — but it's fun to watch them as you move their toys around.
Monterey Bay Aquarium's webcams
Like the National Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium offers several live webcams. Among the cutest is the African blackfooted penguin cam, through which viewers can see these lively birds waddle around and play. Also high on the cuteness scale are the sea otters, available for normal viewing 12 hours daily, as well as three feeding sessions a day.