The Santa Barbara Zoo’s youngest and maybe cutest members were added to the menagerie in late August, when a litter of five Asian small-clawed otter pups were born in a nesting box. They are the first of their species born at the Santa Barbara Zoo in more than 20 years.
All five pups are within a healthy weight range and have continued their growth since last month, according to the announcement from the zoo. The tiny otters started to open their eyes just a few days ago.
The breeding pair, two young Asian small-clawed otters named Julian and Bob arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in January and March 2010 respectively. Julian is one year and three months old. She was born at the Bronx Zoo. The three-years-and-six-months-old Bob came from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Julian and Bob were paired as part of a cooperative breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
“We are incredibly pleased with these first-time parents. They seem to be doing a good job with their parental skills,” said Alan Varsik, the assistant zoo director. “It is exciting to have a young breeding pair and to have them be successful so early in their time here at the zoo. It will be fun to have a family group of small-clawed otters on view for our guests.”
Now, a lot of zoo visitors are probably wondering—when will these cute otter pups go on view? In the wild, Asian small-clawed otter parents keep their newborns in a den until they grow teeth and can swim freely. These young otters in captivity will also have to stay in their behind-the-scenes nesting area until they are old enough to safely navigate in a deep exhibit pool. Teeth will come in late September, but the otter pups will be slowly exposed to swimming lessons in deeper water for many weeks. Towards the end of November, approximately 90 days since their birth, they will have mastered full diving in deep water and can move to the large exhibit pool to meet the visitors.
The Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter species in the world. Less than two feet in length and ten pounds in weight, they are half the size of North American river otters. Their tiny claws do not extend above the fleshy end pads of their toes and fingers, hence the name. These agile swimmers are found in freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps throughout Southeast Asia, including China, southern India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsular. Their ideal habitats are quiet pools and sluggish streams for fishing and diving.
Although these otters are not listed as endangered, rapid industrial development has resulted in pollution and destruction of their natural habitats and is a great threat to them. As a matter of fact, Asian small-clawed otters are considered an “indicative species” – their population indicates the general health of their habitat and the health of other species there.