DENVER (CBS4)– The Denver Zoo has welcomed three Asian small-clawed otter pups after they were born on May 29.
The unnamed pups are currently behind the scenes under the care of their parents, Asha and Bugsy. The zookeepers are keeping a close eye on them through closed-circuit video in the family’s nesting box.
The new parents and their pups, whose genders are unknown, will remain there until they are old enough to return to explore their habitat.
This is the second birth for Asha and Bugsy. The pair welcomed their first offspring, Jilin, in August 2014. Zookeepers say Jilin has assisted his parents in helping rear his new siblings, a common practice for the otters which live in large family groups of up to 12 individuals in the wild.
The video shows Asha nudging her pups with her mouth. She is not biting them, but trying to stimulate them and keep them breathing on their own.
Additional Information from the Denver Zoo:
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.