A furry pile of tiny baby Otters snuggled in the nest box at Germany’s NaturZoo Rheine represents the first-ever birth of Asian Small-clawed Otters at the zoo.
The pups, which were born on October 31, stay so close together that the staff is unsure how many pups are in the nest, but they expect there are four or five little ones.
Four adult Asian Small-clawed Otters, all about six years old, arrived at NaturZoo Rheine in the summer of 2017. The staff allowed the female to select her mate from among the three males in the group and she became pregnant shortly after.
Keepers knew that the female had given birth because they heard the pups chirping loudly from within the nest box. The female did not come out of the box for four days. Keepers respected her privacy and allowed her to bond with her newborns. Two of the males cared for the female and her pups by bringing her food during this time. Later, when the female left the nest box for brief periods, the males guarded the nest. The males also brought fresh bedding, cleaned waste from the nest, and helped transfer the pups to a second nest box when the pups were about three weeks old.
Keepers have not disturbed the nest, but one day, when all the adults were out of the box, they peeked inside to check on the pups. At first glance, they thought there were three pups in the box, but then realized there were at least four. Later, another keeper thought she saw five pups. The number will remain a mystery until the pups come out of the nest with their mom, probably in late December.
Asian Small-clawed Otters, which are the smallest of all Otter species, are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They inhabit wetlands, mangrove swamps, and waterways in Southeast Asia. Many of these areas are rapidly being converted for aquaculture production, which diminishes the quality of the habitat. Many surrounding hillsides are being converted to tea and coffee plantations, with the pesticides used in those plantations running off into waterways where Otters live.