SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A 6-month-old female Asian small-clawed otter pup died at the Santa Barbara Zoo over the weekend of March 17, 2018, due to a freak accident.
Zoo officials believe the baby otter chased an object in the water and wedged its head in a crevice where it lodged so tightly that it was unable to breathe. A necropsy revealed that the pup died from asphyxiation -- not drowning.
The death happened at the zoo's large otter exhibit pool. A zoo docent stationed at the exhibit noticed that she had not seen of the pups in a while and notified zoo staff who discovered the pup in the pool.
Zoo staff is said to be shaken up by the incident.
“We are all adjusting to the loss. The dedicated Animal Care team is doing all we can to support the otter family, and their keepers, during this time,” said Michele Green, Curator of Mammals.
The baby otter was one of three pups born on Oct. 7, 2017, to parents Gail and Peeta.
Officials say this is the first deadly accident for the zoo in its 47-year history of care for this species of otter. 52 otters have lived in the exhibit during the nearly 5-decade run.
The exhibit was retrofitted and the small crevice where the baby otter lost its life has been covered with a grate so that no other otter can insert its head into it. A complete audit of all pool, filter, and waterfall systems is underway to ensure an incident like this doesn't happen again, officials say.
The small-clawed otter species produces the smallest otters in the world. These otters live in freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps throughout Southeast Asia including southern India and China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. Unlike sea otters, this species spends more time on land than in water, even though they are agile swimmers and divers.
The species is about 2 feet long and weigh under 10 pounds. They are one of the few species of otter that lin in social groups. In the wild, Asian small-clawed otters live in extended family groups of up to 12 individuals and the entire family helps raise the active youngsters.