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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Otterly adorable: Canberra zoo welcomes its first otter pups

Parenting came naturally to Pai and Bal, the proud first-time parents of three Asian Small-clawed Otter pups at the National Zoo and Aquarium, according to Wildlife and Grounds Manager, Bec Scott.

Ms Scott said it was particularly exciting because, although the zoo has housed otters for nearly 20 years, this is its first litter of otter pups.

“In zoos, first-time parents can be a little bit tricky; like a first-time parent for a human baby, you’ve got to learn the skills needed to be able to raise your offspring,” Ms Scott said.

“Keepers always stand by cautiously watching new parents because you never know whether they’re going to be good at it or not.

“Every step of the way our otter parents have been amazing. They’ve really tended to the babies, made sure they’ve grown up to the amazing little creatures they are today.”

The litter of three includes one female pup, Josie, and two boys named Chester and Basil. 

The pups are learning to swim and explore their surroundings.

When it comes to sharing domestic duties, zookeeper Em Davies said, “Dad usually takes over, unless there’s food involved”.

“They always keep me on my toes! They’re frantic, they’re energetic, they push boundaries – they’re so much fun.

“And they’re so intelligent! You can teach otters to do a lot of different things.”

The four-month-old pups still have a lot to learn, including water safety.

Swimming lessons occurred in a baby pool at first, and until they’re strong swimmers, the jet stream in the otter enclosure will stay turned off.

Ms Scott said otters are surprisingly underdeveloped when they’re born, and they spend the first six weeks of life in a nest. 

“They don’t even have their eyes open, and slowly but surely they start to develop. From six weeks they learn to swim.”

The pups were born as part of a regional breeding program and in the wild, otters are considered a vulnerable species.

Asian Small-clawed Otters are typically found in waterways, rivers and rice fields and the species is threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and agricultural development.

Ms Scott said there can be anywhere between one to six pups in an otter litter.

“So for us, three is perfect.”

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