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New Baby Otters at Seaworld
Are you a sucker for new babies? Do you go all ‘gooey’ at the sight of a newborn animal? Well you had better get down to Seaworld, Orlando fast, in order to see the cutest babies ever – four baby otters born in early March, 2009, after a two month gestation period. At birth they would have weighed around 50g. Photos of them show them curled up, eyes tightly shut, furry little paws, dozing in a pile, one on top of the other. If it were not for the fur they remind me oh so much of human babies – that dozey, head-lolling, just fed look. These little creatures fit snugly into the palm of your hand – you can almost hear them chirping in their sleep. Still nursing from their mother, these offspring won’t open their eyes for another three weeks.
At first they are completely blind and toothless and almost unable to move, so they spend their first few weeks of life simply sleeping or nursing. Their parents are Sophie and Simon, and like other otters of this species they mate for life. They can have two litters of pups each year with between one and six babies, and mum is kept busy feeding the pups every three to four hours for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. After about 14 weeks the pups are fully weaned and can eat solid food and swim. These otter babies will stay with their mother until she has her next litter, and the male otter not only helps with nest building before they are born, but also helps to obtain food. These lovely creatures can live for between 11 and 16 years.
Native to south-east Asia, these Asian small-clawed otters have been bred as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan. This aims to preserve animals which are endangered or threatened in aquariums or zoos. They are the smallest otter species in the world and are found in many parts of Asia, in the mangrove swamps and freshwater wetlands of such countries as Malaysia, Burma, India, Bangladesh, southern China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. As they prefer to live near water they are mostly found in the coastal waters or rivers, estuaries and creeks. Most otters are solitary, but these small clawed otters live in family groups.
When fully grown these little otters should measure about from 65-94 cm from the tip of their noses to the tip of their tails. They can weigh anything from 1 to 5kg, and they feed on shellfish, crayfish, frogs, crabs and fish, crushing the shells with their teeth. They are distinguished by their forepaws which have claws which do not extend beyond the fleshy pads of their toes, and webbing which only extends to the end of their last joint, rather than to the end of their toes. This makes them particularly dextrous and they can use their paws to feed on crabs, molluscs and other small aquatic animals. Whilst other otters catch their prey with their mouths, these otters use their paws. All otters have very flexible streamlined bodies and because of this they are able to groom almost every part of their fur.
Their fur is a dark, greyish-brown, with a lighter colour on their faces and necks. It is quite short hair, less than an inch in length, but it is dense and velvety. Their heads are somewhat flattened, and their necks are fairly short, with their eyes towards the front. Their very small ears are rounded and their structure enables them to close their ears when they dive into water. Their whiskers are very important as they use them to detect the movement of their prey. They have quite long tails, which they use to help them balance when standing upright, as well as using them to steer and propel themselves when swimming.
Sadly, these delightful creatures are now regarded as either vulnerable or threatened in some areas, as their natural habitats have been eroded, as well as becoming polluted. They are also at the mercy of hunters.
If you are in the vicinity of Seaworld, then do look out for these charming creatures. They are sure to give great pleasure to those who are lucky enough to watch them. Don’t forget to take your camera!
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