Squeaks in a nest box greeted the otter keepers at the Santa Barbara Zoo on October 7: “That’s how we knew Gail had given birth,” said Michele Green, the Zoo’s Curator of Mammals. Three new Asian small-clawed otter pups joined the world just over a week ago, born to popular swimmers Gail and Peeta, the zoo announced today. The pregnancy was only detected recently when her keepers realized Gail was due any day.
The tiny otters are healthy, but won’t leave their behind-the-scenes enclosure until they can safely swim and eat solid food, perhaps by mid-December. Gail came in March from the Greensboro Science Center in South Carolina and was born in 2013; Peeta was born in 2008 at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The Santa Barbara Zoo hasn’t had otter pups since 2011, when six were born to Jillian and Bob, who also had a litter in 2010. They are all now at the National Zoo.
The zoo’s Foster Feeder program is available for the new otter family. A $50 donation helps feed them their preferred diet of crustaceans and small fish, and donors receive recognition at the Zoo feeder board and newsletter, as well as some fun schwag.
The otter species is not endangered, but they are considered threatened by habitat destruction from palm oil farming and also hunting and pollution. Losses of otter populations indicates health threats to other species in the habitat. Once fully grown, the Asian small-clawed otter is about half the size of North American river otters, or about two feet long and 10 pounds.