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Otter-ly dinky: baby otters learn to swim at Chester Zoo

Photo: Chester Zoo

Five baby otters have been thrown in at the deep end while being taught how to swim by their parents at Chester Zoo.

Mum Annie and dad Wallace took their new pups for a debut dip in water after emerging from their dens with them for the first time since the quintet were born in mid-July.

Asian short-clawed otters Credit: Chester Zoo

The new litter of Asian short-clawed otters, which currently weigh between 450g and 612g, is made up of two boys and three girls - all yet to be named by their keepers. It is the first litter for Annie and Wallace.

Asian short-clawed otters Credit: Chester Zoo

Fiona Howe, assistant otter team manager at the zoo, said:

While otters might seem like born naturals in the water, even they need to be taught the basics in the early stages of their lives.

Asian short-clawed otters are a highly social species and learning to swim is a real family effort. Mum Annie and dad Wallace have both been working together and, now that they are confident that each of the pups are ready to start swimming, they’ve been taking them by the scruffs of their necks and dropping them in at the deep end. All five of them are getting to grips with the water really, really quickly.

Annie and Wallace are first time parents but they’re doing a fab job, sharing with the daily care of the pups, including grooming, babysitting and feeding.

– Fiona Howe
Asian short-clawed otters Credit: Chester Zoo

Asian short-clawed otters, which are found in various parts of Asia from India to the Philippines and China, are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable to extinction. Experts believe the species is likely to soon become endangered unless the circumstances increasing the threat to its survival improve.

Sarah Roffe, otter team manager, added:

Many of the wetlands where Asian short-clawed otters live are being taken over by humans for agricultural and urban development, while some otters are hunted for their skins and organs which are used in traditional Chinese medicines.

It has led to a decline in their numbers - a rapid decline in some regions - and they are now listed as one of the world's most vulnerable species. That's why it's so important to support conservation projects to safeguard the future of this important species.

– Sarah Roffe

As well as a successful record with breeding exotic otter species, Chester Zoo has also helped fund research and conservation projects in Cheshire to monitor and safeguard native otter populations which are distant relations of the Asian short-clawed species.

Asian short-clawed otter facts

  • The pups were born on 8 JulyMum Annie is two years old (born 5 Sept 2014)
  • Dad Wallace is aged four (born 31 Jan 2013)
  • The new pups are welcome addition to the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, a carefully managed scheme overseeing the breeding of zoo animals in different countries
  • Each of the pups is developing well and are a good weight for their age – the smallest currently coming in at 450g with the largest tipping the scales at 612g
  • The species is also sometimes to referred to as the Oriental small-clawed otter, or small-clawed otter
  • As their name suggests, they have short but very flexible, sensitive claws, useful for digging, climbing and also for grabbing and holding on to prey
  • They are the smallest of all otters and in the wild live in small groups across Asia from India and Nepal to the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand
  • They mainly eat crabs, other water creatures and fish