4 otter pups at the Woodland Park Zoo begin to open their eyes (video)

SEATTLE — Four Asian small-clawed otters were born December 9, 2016, and are just now becoming more mobile and have fully opened their eyes.

Asian small-clawed otters are all about family, and the new pups are being cared for attentively by their parents and three older sisters. They are spending their time in a private den behind-the-scenes.

Zookeepers at the Woodland Park Zoo says the whole otter family pitches in to raise the pups. Mom nurses the newborns and dad and siblings provide supportive care. Occasionally, the adults leave the den to go outdoors briefly but prefer to stay indoors to focus on their pups.

Parents Teratai and Guntur are experienced and have successfully raised two previous litters. Though our keepers have a close eye on the family, they trust Teratai and Guntur to do all the work and will remain hands-off as much as possible. Next week the pups will have a veterinary exam, which will be the first time they will be handled by staff. They’ll get measured, weighed, receive vaccinations, and then get returned quickly to their family.

Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest otters among the 13 otter species. Gestation lasts 60 to 64 days. At birth, these otters weigh just 50 grams, no more than the weight of a golf ball. They have managed to reach around Beanie Babies size now. Born without the ability to see or hear, the pups depend on the nurturing care of both parents until they begin developing their senses at about 3 weeks old.

As the pups grow and become more mobile, the parents and older siblings will teach them how to swim in the safety of a tub we’ll set up for them near their den. After mastering the tub, they will graduate to going outdoors where they will be taught to dive a few inches deep with their vigilant family by their side. The pups will be officially introduced to zoogoers when they can swim and safely navigate the outdoors.

Water is such a critical part of the Asian small-clawed otter’s story. Though it’s more terrestrial than other otter species, the Asian small-clawed otter is still so dependent on access to clean, healthy waterways to survive in its native southern and southeastern Asia, including areas of India, Indonesian islands, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, southern China and Palawan in the Philippines. With rapidly declining habitat, range, and population, the species moved from near threatened status in 2004 to the more serious vulnerable category in 2008.