Two Asian Small-Clawed Otter pups, born in early March at the Auckland Zoo, are more than eager to be exploring outside their den. ‘Kalaya’, and her brother, ‘Chet’ have been keeping staff and the rest of their otter family on their toes. The adventurous siblings have also jumped right in to swimming lessons.
The Asian Small-Clawed Otter is the smallest otter species in the world. They are native to mangrove swamps and freshwater wetlands of Bangladesh, Burma, India, southern China, Taiwan, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Their maximum body length, including a twelve-inch tail, is about 28 to 39 inches (70 – 100 cm). Their weight can range from 2.2 to 11.9 lbs (1 – 5.4 kg). The paws are one of its distinctive features, the claws not extending beyond the fleshy end pads of its partially webbed fingers and toes. This feature give the otter a high degree of manual dexterity so it can use its paws to feed on mollusks, crabs and other small aquatic animals.
Asian Small-Clawed Otters are monogamous. The mates can have two litters of one to six pups per year, and the gestation period is about 60 days. The newborn pups are born toothless, practically immobile and eyes closed. The young will remain in their birthing den for the first few weeks, nursing and staying close to mom. They open their eyes after 40 days and are fully weaned at about 14 weeks. They begin swimming at about three months. Young otters will stay with the mother until the next litter is born. The father assists the mother in nest building and food procurement. Otters have a life span, in the wild, of around 11 to 16 years.
Asian Small-Clawed Otters are currently classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Their main threats are habitat destruction, hunting and pollution. Unfortunately, their population trend is decreasing, despite being a protected species.