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Dallas Zoo in Texas is celebrating the successful birth and nurturing of an Asian Small-clawed Otter pup. She was born on January 25, but needed more than 100 days of devoted care from her keepers, because otter pups born without siblings usually do not survive.

The pup’s mother, Daphne, became the oldest female otter in the national Species Survival Plan’s breeding population to give birth. Now 13, Daphne was age 12 years, 9 months when the pup was born. The pup has been named Tasanee, which means 'beautiful view' in Thai. Dad Jimmy, eight years old, was born at the Dallas Zoo in 2006.

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Photo credit: Dallas Zoo

See video of the otter pup: 

Otters typically give birth to three or four pups. The survival rate for single otter pups is extremely poor, possibly due to their mothers’ insufficient milk production and lack of stimulation from litter-mates. Since 2000, only 18 single pups have been born in U.S. zoos, and 76 percent have died. Tasanee is the first female single pup to survive longer than 30 days.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment for our team,” said Dr. Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., vice president of animal operations and welfare at the Dallas Zoo. “The safe birth of a single pup to the oldest otter mother to give birth has required skilled, dedicated care.”

See and read more after the fold.

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Tasanee weighed just a little over 2 ounces (57 g) at birth, about the size of a C battery. While strong and healthy at birth, she didn’t gain weight as fast as her keepers would have liked. Keeper Emily Roberts, who had previous experience feeding otter pups, led the initial feedings for Tasanee. She mentored the team, which also documented daily weight gains, body condition and developmental milestones to ensure Tasanee stayed on track. Keepers wore disposable medical gloves so no human scent was left on the pup. Tasanee first crawled on March 1 and began walking March 9. By March 22, she began trying to swim in a shallow tray of water. By mid-April, her parents had taught her to swim in a small in-ground pool.

“This has definitely been a group effort; we collaborated with our nutritionist, veterinarians and zoo colleagues,” said Linda King, mammal supervisor. “Our entire section participated in pup monitoring.  We were very fortunate to have otter parents who accepted our assistance. Tasanee has a sassy survivor attitude, and we are overjoyed to see her progress.” 

She now is a healthy 2.3 pounds (1 kg), and was introduced to the otters’ outdoor habitat last week. Because the pools and river in the Betty Moroney Norsworthy Otter Outpost are deep, Tasanee is being watched closely to ensure that she’s a strong swimmer and can navigate the sloping edges of the stream. She’s very curious and loves to explore, but her mother had to do a bit of encouraging  to get her into the large pool. Guests to the zoo over the weekend were treated to the little otter’s tumbling, squeaking explorations.

Asian Small-clawed Otters are monogamous and both parents play roles in rearing the young. While Daphne has been nursing Tasanee, Jimmy has been an excellent, very protective father. It’s his job to take food to both mom and pup, patrol the area and help teach the pup to swim. Tasanee has learned to vocalize, making loud chirps to communicate with her parents. 

The Dallas Zoo is part of the Asian Small-clawed Otter Species Survival Plan (SSP), a collaborative conservation and breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that manages efforts to help ensure survival of endangered species. As a member of the SSP, the Dallas Zoo supports conservation efforts to protect animals in the wild while striving to ensure a future for them through breeding efforts that keep the gene pool healthy and genetically sound.

Asian Small-clawed Otters are found in the wetlands of southern Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, Borneo, Palawan Islands and Southern China. The smallest of the 13 otter species, they are two to three feet (60 to 90 cm) long, including the tail, and weigh five to 11 pounds (5 kg). They have unique and sensitive paws, with toes that have very little webbing and almost no claws. Their fur is extremely dense and soft.