New baby otters make debut at Lee Richardson Zoo

4/30/2013

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Much to the delight of 3-year-old Urijah Jackson, Lee Richardson Zoo's newest additions playfully showed off their newly acquired swimming skills Monday.

"Oh look at the otters. Baby otters — oh how cute, how cute," Urijah exclaimed, with a tone reminiscent of a mother talking about hew newborn.

"I like them, I like them, I like them," he yelled, as he expressed his enthusiasm with a dance.

Summer, Linus and Liwanu Jr., the three North American river otter pups born at the zoo recently, with the prodding of their mother Ariel, have recently begun making appearances outside of their den, much to the excitement of Urijah and other visitors.

"There's one girl and two boy (otters) and it seems like the girl's the dominant one," Zookeeper II Angie Herman said. "We had one boy that was real lazy for awhile, but he's getting more active."

She was referring to Liwanu Jr. (LJ for short), named after his dad, Liwanu Sr. The name is fitting to LJ's personality, which Herman said is very reminiscent of his dad.

"His dad's real lazy, so that's where he gets that," she said laughing and adding that the senior otter usually just hangs out in one of the dens, his own man cave, all day.

Because male otters can be aggressive toward pups and because the same applies to a female otter in protection of her pups, Liwanu Sr. is being housed separately until the babies are weaned and completely self-sufficient.

"He's got a water tank he can swim in — he acts like he's on vacation or something," Herman said. "He's loving it."

Mama otter Ariel gave birth to the pups on Feb. 9, but up until recently has kept visitors and zoo staff in suspense, keeping the pups in their den most of the time. According to the zoo's website, this is because Ariel was being protective, since in the wild, otters must be cautious about predators.

"She waited almost two months ... and she had to teach them to swim. Basically, she brought them out one at a time at first and drug them in the water and they would paddle around, but she had to make them dive," Herman said.

Mother otters pull their babies underwater by the scruffs of their necks until they get accustomed to diving on their own. On Monday, the babies, while careful not to dive too deep, did go underwater on their own, but stayed near their mother and to the surface.

Other children eagerly peeked through the glass of the otter exhibit to get a glimpse of the babies swimming.

Two-year-old Ancel DeRemus was delighted when two of the otters dragged a dish out into the water with them, as another one chewed on a floating log.

Emma Hill celebrated her third birthday by visiting the zoo with her mom, Linda Hill, but just as they walked up the exhibit, the baby otters attempted to sneak back into their den. Ariel soon put a stop to that, though, pulling them back out as if to say, "We have visitors."

"(Emma) was saying, 'Get out of there,' to the babies, because the mommy was saying, 'Get out of there,'" Hill said, laughing.

The babies, which are about three quarters the size of Ariel now, still have some difficulty with coordination, demonstrated by the fact that when they walked down the ramp from the den, all three tripped over the bottom edge, causing them to flip over on their backs.

Herman said based on the condition of Ariel's underside, the pups are still nursing, but are gradually being introduced to meat, as well.

"They were probably 2 months old when they started eating meat and now that they are, they're eating more and more and more," Herman said.

The meat consists of ground beef, similar to what is fed to felines, smelt, which is small fish, and carrots.

"Basically, we feed them carrots to keep their teeth in good condition because if they only get soft food all the time, it deteriorates their teeth," she said.

According to a press release from Lee Richardson Zoo, mornings are the best time to catch the family outside as keepers have been closing the den doors to keep them from hanging out inside their den.

To watch some of the baby otters' beginner swimming lessons, visit www.leerichardson.org and click on the photo of the otter.

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