SOURCE: Denver Zoo

June 04, 2015 14:49 ET

Three Asian Small-Clawed Otters Born at Denver Zoo

Week-old Pups Will Remain Behind the Scenes as They Develop

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - June 04, 2015) - Denver Zoo welcomed the birth of three adorable, Asian small-clawed otters on May 29. The unnamed pups, whose genders are unknown, are currently behind the scenes under the excellent care of their parents, Asha (AH-shah) and Bugsy, and zookeepers are keeping a close eye on them through closed-circuit video in the family’s nesting box. They will remain there until the pups are old enough to return to explore their habitat.

This is the second birth for both parents. The pair welcomed their first offspring, Jilin (JEE-lin), in August of last year. Zookeepers say Jilin has assisted his parents in helping rear his new siblings. This is a common practice for this species, which lives in large family groups of up to 12 individuals in the wild.

Female Asha came to Denver Zoo from the Smithsonian’s Zoo National in 2012. Male Bugsy, who arrived at Denver Zoo in 2013, is from Zoo Atlanta. Both were born in 2005. Bugsy, who comes from a large family, is known for his caring and attentive personality. Both Asha and Bugsy have proved to be great and very hands-on parents.

As their name suggests, Asian small-clawed otters have very short claws that do not extend past the fleshy pads of their partly-webbed toes. This makes their forepaws very agile. The otters forage with their sensitive paws to locate prey in murky water or mud. They also have stiff whiskers, called “vibrissae,” that can detect the movement of prey in the water. Once they find prey, they catch it with their paws, not with their mouths like other otters.

Like all otters, they are very well adapted for the water. Their streamlined bodies enable them to swim rapidly and change direction quickly when pursuing prey. Their muscular tail helps propel them through the water when swimming fast and is also used like a rudder to help them steer. They close off their ears and nostrils when swimming and can dive underwater for six to eight minutes at a time. They have dense fur consisting of two layers, a soft insulating underfur to keep them warm and an outer layer of waterproofed guard hairs to keep them dry.

They are the most social of all otters. Communication between otters is accomplished through about a dozen different calls and chirps, to signal danger or cry for help, or through smell. Glands near the tail deposit a strong musky scent on their feces to communicate territorial boundaries.

Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest of all 13 species of otter. They grow to about two and a half to three feet long from head to tail and weigh six to 12 pounds. Their long, slender bodies are covered with dark gray or brown fur and their faces and throats are usually cream-colored.

The otters are found in a number of Southeast Asian countries, from northern India to southeastern China, the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia, but are most commonly seen in Thailand and Malaysia. They adapt to live in a variety of aquatic habitats, from tropical coastal wetlands to freshwater rivers and creeks as well as mountain streams and even rice paddies.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as vulnerable. Their biggest threats are habitat destruction and conversion for agriculture, draining of wetlands, hunting for their luxurious fur and pollution from pesticides and heavy metals. Even though they are protected, their numbers are declining. They are considered an indicator species, providing a warning of threats to other species that live in the same habitats.

About Denver Zoo: Denver Zoo brings education alive, providing a unique learning experience that sparks an interest in the natural world for visitors and program participants alike. Home to 4,300 animals representing more than 600 species, the Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which assures the highest standards of animal care.

A leader in green action, Denver Zoo is the greenest zoo in the country and is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the environment in support of all species by attaining the highest environmental standards. Since 1996, Denver Zoo has participated in about 600 animal conservation projects in 62 countries on all seven continents.

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Contact Information

  • Contact:
    Sean Andersen-Vie
    (720) 337-1418

    Scott Camp
    (720) 337-1604