Woodland Park Zoo’s quadruplet River Otter pups reached a milestone last week…the six-week-olds opened their eyes!
The North American River Otter pups (two females and two males) were born to mom, Valkyrie, and dad, Ziggy. They are the first offspring for their five-year-old parents, and, as far back as the zoo’s animal records go, they are the first River Otter births documented in the zoo’s 119-year history.
“River Otters typically open their eyes between 28 and 35 days, so they’re right on schedule,” said Deanna DeBo, an animal manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “Mom continues to provide excellent care for her pups, and we’re seeing appropriate weight gains. As they get stronger, they’ll soon be walking. Right now they’re using their bellies to move about.”
Valkyrie and her pups continue to live off view in a private den, so the new family can nurse and bond. Animal care staff weighs the pups once a week to ensure continued weight gains and, as part of the zoo’s neonatal program, animal health staff will perform wellness exams every several weeks. The pups currently weigh between two and three pounds apiece.
The ability to swim is something that otter pups do not possess when they’re born. “Otters are such graceful, agile swimmers but it doesn’t come naturally to them. They’re born helpless and blind, so pups need swimming lessons by their mom,” explained DeBo. “It’s dunkin’ otter time as the mom grabs the pups by the scruff of their necks and dunks them in and out of the water. It may look scary but the moms know what they’re doing and otter pups are very buoyant,” explained DeBo.
Once the pups demonstrate they can swim, Valkyrie and her pups will be given access to the public outdoor habitat, where the pups can learn to swim safely in the deep pool and navigate the terrain.
The father, Ziggy, is currently separated and can be seen in the Northern Trail habitat with the zoo’s other river otter, a 21-year-old male named Duncan.
Valkyrie and Ziggy were introduced to each other in 2015 under a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Otter Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos and aquariums to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of otters.
North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) are semi-aquatic members of the weasel family. Their habitat ranges over most of North America in coastal areas, estuaries, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers; they can be found in water systems all over Washington State. River Otters consume a wide variety of prey such as fish, crayfish, amphibians and birds. At the top of the food chain, River Otters are an excellent reflection of the health of local ecosystems.
All otter species are considered threatened, while five of the 13 species are endangered due to water pollution, overfishing of commercial stock and habitat destruction. To help Woodland Park Zoo contribute information to sustainable breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the River Otter, fans can adopt the species through the zoo’s ZooParent program. For more information, see Woodland Park Zoo’s website: www.zoo.org
In addition to River Otters, the award-winning Northern Trail habitat is home to Grizzlies, Elk, Gray Wolves, Mountain Goats and Steller’s Sea Eagles. The Northern Trail will be reimagined through the lens of the Pacific Northwest’s exceptional ecosystem and will open in 2020 as Living Northwest. Funds raised through the Living Northwest Initiative will create a new exhibit experience that will be a revitalization of the Northern Trail and will become a hub for engaging zoo guests and community members around discovery, species recovery, human-wildlife coexistence, and saving the wildlife and ecosystems right here at home for the benefit of every species.
To donate to the Living Northwest Initiative, visit www.zoo.org/donate .