Two baby Giant Otters - the first to ever be born at Chester Zoo - have been given their first swimming lessons. The pups were taken for a dip in the pool by mum Icana and dad Xingu as the duo made their first public appearance, after being born in mid-September. Having been looked after in their dens by the parents for the last seven weeks, each of the youngsters is now being individually taught how to swim now that mum and dad are confident that they are ready.
Chester Zoo's Curator of Mammals, Tim Rowlands, said: “It might surprise some to learn that a species so well adapted to living around water actually needs to be taught how to swim at first, but that’s exactly what happens and it’s a really family effort. Dad Xingu has been taking them by the scruffs of their necks and throwing them in at the deep end. And after each has had a little splash mum Icana then dives in and drags them back out. They are such a charming and charismatic species and it really is fascinating to see these swimming lessons taking place.”
While they might be small now, the pups will grow up to be truly giant at a length of 6ft and a weight of around 75 lbs (34kgs).Their arrival has been cause for great celebration at the zoo as it is the first time the species has successfully bred there. This landmark event has occurred only six months after the otters were given access to new state-of-the-art breeding facilities and dens at the zoo – including the UKs first underwater viewing zone for the species.
Tim added: “They’re an endangered species that have rarely bred in zoos before and so we’re very, very pleased indeed. Achieving our first ever successful breeding is a real landmark for us and now, with the excellent new facilities and real skilled keeping staff we’ve got at our disposal, we hope we can play a pivotal role in the future conservation of the species.”
In the wild Giant Otters are found in remote areas within some freshwater lakes, rivers, creeks, and reservoirs of tropical South America, where it is estimated that as few as just 1,000 may remain. Their numbers have been drastically reduced due to fur hunting and habitat destruction.