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Five Baby Otters, First Pups in 20 Years for Santa Barbara!

For the first time in over 20 years, the Santa Barbara Zoo is hearing the high pitched squeals of baby Asian Small-clawed Otter pups. Eventually these otters will be among the most playful and active of baby animals, but for now they are safe and cozy in the den with their parents. Over the next three months, their eyes will fully open, their claws will emerge and they will get swimming lessons in shallow water with their parents as instructors. This vulnerable species was bred at the Santa Barbara Zoo as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) to ensure healthy genetic diversity for this species in North American zoos.

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 1b

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 1b

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 1b

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 1b

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 1b

Many more pics and much more info below the fold


(Santa Barbara, CA, September 7, 2010) -- A new pair of Asian small-clawed otters have produced five offspring, the first of the species born at the Santa Barbara Zoo in more than 20 years. Born in a nesting box off-exhibit early on Friday, August 20, they were all within a healthy weight range and have continued to grow since then. 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.

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“We are Incredibly pleased with these first-time parents,” said Alan Varsik, Assistant Zoo Director. “They seem to be doing a great job with their parental skills. 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.” 

The breeding pair, named Jillian and Bob by Santa Barbara Zoo sponsors, arrived in January and March 2010, respectively. They are both first-time parents and were paired as part of a cooperative breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Jillian is one year and ten months old and was born at the Bronx Zoo. Bob, aged three years and six months, camefrom the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The last time Asian small-clawed otters were born at the zoo was in June 1989 to a pair that had previous litters in February and October 1988.

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 may not be able to safely navigate in a deep exhibit pool. The expected development of the pups follows:

20 days: Eyes open (approximately September 10)

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

35 days: First swimming lessons in very shallow water, off-exhibit (late September)55 days: Swim in 4 inches of water, off-exhibit (mid-October)

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

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

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 7b

National Cooperative Breeding Program

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 17 species managed by SSPs, though not all of them are currently breeding. By selectively breeding small-clawed otters, Santa Barbara Zoo and other zoos hope toensure the survival of the species.”

Although these otters are 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.

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 NorthAmerican 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. The entire family helps raise the young, which are among the most active and playful of baby animals.

Asian small clawed otter pups santa barbara zoo 8b