Visitors to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo and the Seattle Aquarium are "otterly" spoiled. They can enjoy river otters cavorting in the water along the Northern Trail at the zoo and watch sea otters dive and twist at the aquarium.
Later this spring, they can begin delighting in the antics of yet a third otter species: Asian small-clawed otters, the smallest of the world's 13 otter species, who will move into an exhibit designed just for them in the new Asian Tropical Forest opening in May 2013.
The first Asian small-clawed otter arrived at the zoo two weeks ago and underwent a standard health checkup today while waiting out a quarantine period.
The otter, a male who is 7 years, 3 months old and weighs about 7 pounds, was sedated during the procedure, which included X rays and bloodwork.
The otter hails from Zoo Atlanta. He will soon be joined by a 3-year-old female otter arriving from the Bronx Zoo. (Small-clawed otters can live 10-15 years in the wild, and individuals in zoos may live 20 or more years.)
About Asian Small-Clawed Otters
The Asian small-clawed otter is petite compared to Woodland Park Zoo's burly river otters! A small-clawed otter measures from 26 to 37 inches in length, with the tail alone making up a third of that length. The animal can weigh up to 11 pounds. (Compare this with the world's largest otter, the well-named giant otter of South America, which measures nearly 6 feet long.)
Asian small-clawed otters tend to spend more time on land than in the water, unlike most other otter species. The waterways they inhabit include freshwater streams, rivers, and creeks as well as coastlines. They feed on animals such as crabs, mussels, snails, and frogs.
The "small-clawed" portion of their name refers to the structure of their paws, which are only partially webbed and highly dexterous. The claws do not protrude beyond the tips of its plump fingers, further adding to its manual dexterity.
Asian small-clawed otters are highly social, often living in family groups of up to 12 members. Both parents care for the young. An older litter of pups may even help care for a second litter born just 6 months after them.
The species is native to Indonesia, southern China, southern India, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia. They are not currently listed as endangered at this time, but habitat loss, pollution, and hunting have taken their toll; the otters are listed as "threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.