Chester Zoo’s Otter Pups Learn to Swim
September 22, 2016
Five baby Otters have been thrown in at the deep end, while being taught how to swim, by their parents at Chester Zoo.
Mum, Annie, and dad, Wallace, took their new pups for their first proper dip in the water. The new pups recently emerged from their den, with their parents, for the first time since the quintet was born July 8th.
The new litter of Asian Short-clawed Otters, which currently weigh between 450g and 612g, is made up of two boys and three girls; all yet to be named by their keepers. This is the first litter for two-year-old Annie and four-year-old Wallace.
Fiona Howe, assistant otter team manager at the zoo, said, “While Otters might seem like born naturals in the water, even they need to be taught the basics in the early stages of their lives.
“Asian Short-clawed Otters are a highly social species and learning to swim is a real family effort. Mum Annie and dad Wallace have both been working together and, now that they are confident that each of the pups are ready to start swimming, they’ve been taking them by the scruffs of their necks and dropping them in at the deep end. All five of them are getting to grips with the water really, really quickly.
“Annie and Wallace are first time parents but they’re doing a fab job, sharing with the daily care of the pups, including grooming, babysitting and feeding.”
Asian Short-clawed Otters, which are found in various parts of Asia from India to the Philippines and China, are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “Vulnerable” to extinction. Experts believe the species is likely to soon become endangered, unless the circumstances increasing the threat to its survival improve.
Sarah Roffe, otter team manager, added, “Many of the wetlands where Asian Short-clawed Otters live are being taken over by humans for agricultural and urban development, while some otters are hunted for their skins and organs which are used in traditional Chinese medicines.
“It has led to a decline in their numbers - a rapid decline in some regions - and they are now listed as one of the world's most vulnerable species. That's why it's so important to support conservation projects to safeguard the future of this important species.”
As well as a successful record with breeding exotic Otter species, Chester Zoo has also helped fund research and conservation projects in Cheshire to monitor and safeguard native otter populations, which are distant relations of the Asian Short-clawed species.
The new pups are welcome addition to the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, a carefully managed scheme overseeing the breeding of zoo animals in different countries.
The species is also sometimes to referred to as the Oriental Small-clawed Otter, or Small-clawed Otter. As their name suggests, they have short but very flexible, sensitive claws, useful for digging, climbing and also for grabbing and holding on to prey. They are the smallest of all otters, and in the wild, they live in small groups across Asia from India and Nepal to the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
They mainly eat crabs, other water creatures and fish.
Small-clawed Otters form monogamous pairs for life. The mated pairs can have two litters of one to six young per year, and the gestation period is about 60 days. The newborn pups are relatively undeveloped; when they are born, they weigh around 50 g, are toothless, practically immobile and their eyes are still closed. They remain in their birthing dens and spend their first few weeks nursing and sleeping.
The pups open their eyes after 40 days and are fully weaned at 14 weeks. In the next 40 days, the young start to eat solid food and can swim three months later.
Young Otters will stay with their mother until the next litter is born. The male otter will assist the female building the nest before birth and in food procurement.
The life span of this species is around 11 to 16 years.