Four new members of the world’s smallest otter species – the Asian Small-clawed Otter – have made their public debut at Perth Zoo in Western Australia. The four pups were born on December 27 and a few days ago had their first medical checkup with veterinary staff to weigh, sex, microchip, vaccinate and examine their general health.
The vets identified two females and two males ranging in size from 1.14 pounds (520 g) to 1.23 pounds (560 g). Asian Small-clawed Otters weigh only about eight pounds (3.5 kg) when fully grown.
The pups have recently started learning how to swim. At this age, the parents carry the pups out of the nest box and into the pool, and then carry them back inside again – but the pups will soon start venturing out by themselves.
Perth Zoo Chief Executive Susan Hunt said the tiny pups are part of an Australasian breeding program to help protect a species that is threatened in the wild.
“The otters at Perth Zoo have now had 16 otter pups, which is four litters in the past two years. These latest pups are the third litter for parents Asia and Tuan,” Hunt said.
Asian Small-clawed Otters are native to parts of India, southern China, Malaysia and Indonesia. They are highly social animals who pair for life. Males play a critical role rearing the pups, including nest building, swimming lessons and supplying food. Older siblings also take a role in the care of new pups and two older sisters are currently helping rear the new babies.
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Asian Small-clawed Otters are threatened in the wild by human activities, including habitat encroachment, aquatic pollution and the meat/fur trade.
The breeding success at Perth Zoo follows the arrival in Perth in 2011 of four new breeding animals from overseas zoos, creating new bloodlines for the regional breeding program which provides back-up population insurance for the species.