Zoo Osnabrück recently released photos of four Asian Small-clawed Otter pups. The pups were born to mother, Haima, and father, Ambu, in early August, but keepers wanted to give the new family time to bond before they made a public debut.
According to veterinarians, the pups all appear healthy. Staff was able to ascertain that two of the pups are females and one is certainly male, however, the smallest and quickest of the litter has yet to allow staff that close-up of an exam. Zoo Veterinarian, Thomas Scheibe, smiled and said, "A small, agile otter is really difficult to catch. One of the four cubs hid completely, so we could only catch and examine three of the cubs. But…we'll catch up soon!”
As part of their routine vet examinations and care, the Asian Small-clawed Otters at Zoo Osnabrück are regularly vaccinated against distemper, a viral disease that often occurs in dogs or some wild animals. "Because the Zoo is not an isolated area, we vaccinate the animals that are susceptible to distemper," explains the wildlife veterinarian.
During the time of the recent exam, each of the pups weighed about 500 grams.
In addition to the vaccination, the otter pups received a microchip, which is also used in pets or horses. "The chip is used for the animals, so that they are individually recognizable. Within one to two years, the young animals will leave us for another zoo, "explained Tobias Klumpe, research associate responsible for the Zoo’s animal transfers.
Visitors can watch the busy family life of the Asian Small-clawed Otters in Zoo Osnabrück’s outdoor area of the Tetra Aquarium. Until about the end of November, the small predators will use the outdoor area before they are moved into their winter quarters inside the Tetra Aquarium, where they will also be on-exhibit.
Although the Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinerea syn. Amblonyx cinereus) is only listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN, the species is seriously threatened by rapid habitat destruction for palm oil farming and by hunting and pollution. They are considered an “indicator species,” meaning their population indicates the general health of their habitat and of other species.
The species is the smallest Otter in the world and lives in freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps throughout Southeast Asia, including southern India and China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. They prefer quiet pools and sluggish streams for fishing and swimming.
Unlike Sea Otters, they spend more time on land than in water, but they are skillful, agile swimmers and divers, with great endurance. They can stay submerged for six to eight minutes.
Asian small-clawed otters are about two feet long and weigh less than ten pounds (half the size of North American River Otters). Their claws do not protrude beyond the ends of the digital pads, thus their names, and their feet do not have fully developed webbing and look very much like human hands.
They are one of the few species of Otter that live in social groups. The bond between mated pairs of Asian Small-clawed Otters is very strong. Both the male and female raise the young and are devoted parents. In the wild, Asian Small-clawed Otters live in extended family groups of up to 12 individuals. The entire family helps raise the young, which are among the most active and playful of baby animals.