Lions, tigers, and ... koalas? Oh my!

After 100 years of stable, edible zoos, Barnum's Animals Crackers is throwing a new creature into the mix to commemorate a century of small red boxes on thin white strings. Recently, visitors to the Nabisco website voted on whether a koala, walrus, penguin, or cobra should join the Barnum family. Results are still being tabulated, but the early favorite was the koala.

Animal-shaped cookies migrated to America in the late 1800s as an English import to meet the craze for fancy baked goods. Bakeries across America began producing them, and in 1902, the National Biscuit Co. gave its version a new name - Barnum's Animals - and a circus theme.

At first, the crackers were sold from large tins. But that same year, National Biscuit Co. executives designed a circus-wagon box with a string to hang from the Christmas tree. The five-cent seasonal box became a year-round hit.

Over the past century, 53 animal breeds have leapt from the small red box to children's mouths. Only lions, elephants, bears, and tigers have enjoyed continuous production, with more exotic creatures - such as jaguars and hyenas - making occasional guest appearances.

Six years ago, a limited-edition endangered-species collection was created to raise money and awareness for the World Wildlife Fund.

The centennial winner will join the current lineup of bison, camels, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, hippopotamuses, jaguars, kangaroos, monkeys, lions, rhinoceroses, seals, tigers, sheep, wolves, zebras, and sitting and standing bears.

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