Happily chirping and squeaking while racing after each other, four Asian small-clawed otter pups explore their expansive, outdoor home at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
The pups — two males and two females — were born Dec. 28 at the zoo, which has seven of the otters including the parents Carlisle and Harley.
This is the second birth for the species at the zoo. It also is the second litter for Carlisle and Harley, zoo officials said Tuesday.
The nonprofit zoo is closed temporarily due to social distancing and crowd capacity restrictions intended to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
“The animals miss visitors,” said Kelly Rouillard, zoo director of marketing and sales. “They notice that visitors are not here, so the dedicated animal care team are coming up with fun and innovative ways to provide enrichment to engage animals.”
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When the pups were born, the staff kept the family behind the scenes as a precaution while the newborns were tiny and helpless.
Typically, Asian small-clawed otters remain in their den for several weeks sleeping and nursing. They don’t open their eyes until they are more than a month old, which is when the pups begin to explore their surroundings, zoo officials said.
They don’t have names yet but the quartet of pups now weigh more than a pound each at 12 weeks old.
Along with their 1-year-old sister, Scotter, the otter family is acclimating to their large outdoor exhibit in Land of the Tiger where they live with the babirusas — wild pigs with elaborate curved tusks.
Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest of the 13 otter species. They are native to Southeast Asia.
The social and highly intelligent species is deemed vulnerable to potential extinction due to habitat destruction, pollution of waterways and poaching, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“We’re fortunate to work in an environment that places great emphasis not only on education about wildlife, but also on the conservation of vital ecosystems,” said Tony Vecchio, zoo executive director.
“Helping our guests understand the threats these animals face and the potential benefits the species bring to aquatic habitats will help inspire action,” Vecchio said.
When adults, the otter pups will weigh between 2 and 11 pounds. Although more terrestrial than the other otter species, Asian small-clawed otters are agile and accomplished swimmers, zoo officials said.
People also can follow updates from inside the zoo and gardens through its social media channels, where the organization is #BringingTheZooToYou.
The zoo also welcomes donations to support the care of its animals. People can donate online through the zoo’s website.
Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075