Otter Pups debut at Melbourne Zoo

15 April 2020

Four precious otter pups born at Melbourne Zoo are being introduced to the world by their proud first-time parents – and things are going swimmingly for the whole family.

Asian small-clawed otters Paula and Odie welcomed the three males and one female in early February, but the pups have only just begun to leave their nest box, meaning they are only now properly visible for the first time.

The parents are picking the youngsters up and carrying them on tours of their enclosure, and have started introducing them to water, letting them paddle in the shallowest part of their stream and even take quick dips. The pups, who have not yet been named, are also beginning to eat solid food – with their favourite meal being yabbies.

Melbourne Zoo staff are thrilled with the adults’ behaviour, said Wild Sea keeper Jose Gomes. “They’re just great parents,” he said. “They’re starting to bring them out of the nest box, as if they’re saying, ‘Come on, it’s time to go and see the world.’ And they’re getting them used to the water now too, starting to give them swimming lessons – some of them have just had their first little swim. The pups are extremely cute.”

Asian small-clawed otters are the world’s smallest otters, reaching 64cm long at most. They are listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild. Paula and Odie are the first of their species to breed at Melbourne Zoo since 2011.

Jose revealed that Paula was instantly smitten with Odie when the handsome otter joined her in August last year, after being brought to Melbourne from his birthplace at Singapore Zoo as part of a breeding programme. “She fell in love straight away,” he said. “At the beginning when they were introduced we kept them separate, with mesh between them – and Paula was scratching at the gate to try to get to his side, like, ‘Let me in! Let me in!'’’

The couple were instantly inseparable, swimming together, foraging together and sleeping snuggled up together. Now Odie has proved himself to be the perfect father as well as Paula’s dream partner, according to Wild Sea precinct coordinator James Uren. “Odie’s a very sensible and supportive dad,” said James.

“He’s also been a great partner. He’ll offer any excess food he’s got to Paula. And a few times when Paula took the pups out of the nest box when they were much younger, he intervened and put them back because he thought they were being taken out too soon. He’s been amazing.”

Native to rainforests in northwest India, southeast China, the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia, Asian smallclawed otters are threatened by poaching and habitat destruction to make way for housing and plantations of tea, coffee and palm oil. Zoos Victoria’s ‘Don’t Palm Us Off’ campaign is calling for the clear labelling of palm oil on products in Australia, to allow otter fans and all animal lovers to make informed choices at the supermarket.

Melbourne Zoo is temporarily closed until further notice to visitors and members, but animals can be enjoyed from home with the Zoos Victoria live stream cameras at https://www.zoo.org.au/animals-at-home/. Bushfire recovery work and conservation work is also continuing. For further information visit zoo.org.au/update.