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Adorable Baby Otters
updated: Jun 29, 2011, 10:31 AM

Source: SB Zoo, photo credit Sheri Horiszny

The Santa Barbara Zoo's breeding pair of Asian small-clawed otters have produced their second litter of pups. The pair's first litter of five pups, born last August, has joined in the care of the new pups as training for future breeding.

This new litter of three females and three males was born in a nesting box off-exhibit on Saturday, May 21, 2011. As in the wild where the parents keep their pups in a den, these young otters will not leave their behind-the-scenes nesting area for several months. Depending on their development, keepers estimate the pups could go on exhibit in early August. The parents and first litter are not regularly on view in their exhibit, as they are caring for the pups.

"In the wild, these otters live in extended family groups, and older offspring help care for pups," notes Sheri Horiszny, the Zoo's Director of Animal Programs. "We try to mimic this natural behavior so that the pups can learn about parenting to prepare them for their own breeding in the future. The family dynamics have been fascinating, and we are excited to share the whole group with our guests in several weeks."

Zoo's Small-clawed Otters Breeding Managed Nationally

The breeding pair, named Jillian and Bob by Santa Barbara Zoo sponsors, arrived in January and March 2010, respectively. They were both first-time parents and were paired as part of a cooperative breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Jillian is two years old and was born at the Bronx Zoo. Bob, aged four, came from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Previously, the last time Asian small-clawed otters were born at the zoo was in June 1989 - more than 20 years ago.

Although this otter species is not listed as endangered, they are seriously threatened by rapid habitat destruction, hunting, and pollution. They are considered an "indicator species" - their population indicates the general health of their habitat and the health of other species.

The AZA Asian small-clawed otter Species Survival Plan (SSP) works to establish healthy zoo populations. The Santa Barbara Zoo is an active participant in this cooperative project between AZA accredited zoos.

"We currently have 19 species managed by SSPs, though not all of them are currently breeding," adds Horiszny. "By selectively breeding small-clawed otters, Santa Barbara Zoo and other zoos hope to ensure the survival of the species."

Name an Otter

The otter pups, like many of the animals at the Zoo, can be named by making a donation to the Santa Barbara Zoo. Parents Jillian and Bob were named by donors Peter and Pieter Crawford-van Meeuwen. Contact the Zoo's Development Department for details at 962-5339 or visit www.sbzoo.org.

When Will the Otter Pups Go On View?

Asian small-clawed otters usually keep their pups in their dens until they are old enough to safely swim and have grown teeth so they can eat solid food (fish). In captivity, the concern is that the pups are able to safely swim in a deep exhibit pool. It is estimated that the new pups could go on view in early August. The expected development of the pups follows:

20 days: Eyes open

30-35 days: Teeth come in (late June)

35 days: First swimming lessons in very shallow water, off-exhibit (late June)

55 days: Swim in 4 inches of water, off-exhibit (mid-July)

70-90 days: Swim in 2 feet of water (potential access to shallow exhibit pool, early August)

90 days: Full diving in deep water (potential access to large exhibit pool, early September)

About Small-Clawed Otters

This species, the smallest otter in the world, lives in freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps throughout Southeast Asia including southern India and China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. They prefer quiet pools and sluggish streams for fishing and swimming. Unlike sea otters, they spend more time on land than in water, but they are skillful, agile swimmers and divers, with great endurance. They can stay submerged for 6 to 8 minutes.

The species is about 2 feet long and weigh under 10 pounds, less than half the size of North American river otters. Their claws do not protrude beyond the ends of the digital pads, thus their names, and their feet do not have fully developed webbing and look very much like human hands.

They are one of the few species of otter that live in social groups. The bond between mated pairs of Asian small-clawed otters is very strong. Both the male and female raise the young and are devoted parents. In the wild, Asian small-clawed otters live in extended family groups of up to 12 individuals and the entire family helps raise the active youngsters.

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