Denver Zoo welcomed the birth of an adorable, Asian Small-Clawed Otter on August 26. The male, named ‘Jilin’ (JEE-Lin) has been under the care of mother, ‘Asha’, and father, ‘Bugsy’.
Zookeepers are giving the young pup the choice to stay behind the scenes or venture into public view. Viewing of the pup may be limited for the next few weeks, but keepers expect him to be out very soon. Asha came to Denver Zoo from Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 2012. Bugsy, who arrived here in 2013, is from Zoo Atlanta. Both were born in 2005. Bugsy, who comes from a large family, is known for his caring personality. Both Asha and Bugsy have proved to be great first-time and very hands-on parents.
The name Jilin, which is also a Chinese province formerly known as Kirin, pays homage to one of Denver Zoo’s other Asian Small-Clawed Otters, ‘Barry Kirin’.
Keepers say the pup has a playful spirit. He enjoys playing with clam shells and plastic balls, hiding from mom and dad and learning to swim. Keepers say he is becoming more playful and brave as he grows older.
As their name suggests, Asian Small-Clawed Otters have very short claws that do not extend past the fleshy pads of their partly webbed toes. This makes their forepaws very agile. The otters forage with their sensitive paws to locate prey in murky water or mud. They also have stiff whiskers called “vibrissae” that can detect the movement of prey in the water. Once they find prey, they catch it with their paws, not with their mouths like other otters.
Like all otters, they are very well adapted for the water. Their streamlined bodies enable them to swim rapidly and change direction quickly when pursuing prey. Their muscular tail helps propel them through the water when swimming fast and is also used like a rudder to help them steer. They close off their ears and nostrils when swimming and can dive underwater for six to eight minutes at a time. They have dense fur consisting of two layers, a soft insulating under fur to keep them warm and an outer layer of waterproofed guard hairs to keep them dry.
They are the most social of all otters, living in extended family groups of up to 20 individuals. Communication between otters is done through about a dozen different calls and chirps, to signal danger or cry for help, or through smell. Glands near the tail deposit a strong musky scent on their feces to communicate territorial boundaries.
Asian Small-Clawed Otters are the smallest of all 13 species of otter. They grow to about two and a half to three feet long from head to tail and weigh six to 12 pounds. Their long, slender bodies are covered with dark gray or brown fur, and their faces and throats are usually cream-colored.
The otters are found in a number of Southeast Asian countries, from northern India to southeastern China, the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia, but are most commonly seen in Thailand and Malaysia. They adapt to live in a variety of aquatic habitats, from tropical coastal wetlands to freshwater rivers and creeks as well as mountain streams and even rice paddies.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as “Vulnerable”. Their biggest threats are habitat destruction and conversion for agriculture, draining of wetlands, hunting for their luxurious fur and pollution from pesticides and heavy metals. Even though they are protected, their numbers are declining. They are considered an indicator species, providing a warning of threats to other species that live in the same habitats.