We are very lucky on the carnivore section here at Wingham to be able to work with most of the main representatives of the Carnivore group. From cats to wolves, bears and some of the smaller, or lesser known species such as binturongs and otters.
My love has always been large carnivores, especially the big cats and when I started here at Wingham, in all honesty I wasn’t overly bothered about having the otters on my daily routine; I mean they’re cool, but they’re no tiger, right?
Boy was I wrong! The smooth coated otters in particular, have earned a special place in my heart and my love for them grows the more I work with them. They really are fantastic, intelligent and funny animals to watch, with personalities bigger than any of the cats in my opinion.
BOB & PONG
Our resident smooth coats are called Bob and Pong. Bob is older than Pong, having just celebrated his 11th birthday, and pong turns 9 in June.
Bob and Pong are a lovely little couple, having already successfully had a very healthy (and very smelly) litter of 7 pups back in 2017.
At the time, we removed Bob from the enclosure and put him in with another female that we used to have called Sheila, just to make sure Pong had no unnecessary stress or trouble from a male in the enclosure. We had no idea how Bob would react to little ones and males are not always the best dads when talking about Carnivores. Pong did a brilliant job, and all 7 of those youngsters went off to their new zoos in February last year.
Fast forward to December 2018, and we still hadn’t seen any signs of another pregnancy. Smooth coated otters do have an oestrus cycle that lasts between 30-37 days but breeding can occur throughout the year.
Bob had been a hit with all the female otters we’ve had at the park over the years so we were starting to worry he may have lost his mojo due to us going nearly 2 years without another litter. Smooth coated otter mating typically occurs underwater, lasts less than a minute and is instigated by a rough and tumble play session. We had seen a lot of potential mating, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to develop….. until now.
Gestation for smooth coats tends to be between 60-63 days depending on what source you read. Due to their underwater mating habits and the frequency of it, when you have a pair that get along as well as Bob and Pong do, it can be hard to estimate just one due date.
Tracking behavioural and physical changes to the female in particular can also give you a rough idea and that is just what we did.
From January 13th we noticed during a training session that things with pong were starting to change. If you have ever been to the park before and seen the otter training session at 12pm, you would have heard us explaining why the husbandry training we do with the animals at the park is so important and this is a real-life scenario where it is fundamental.
As you can see, Pong gets noticeably fatter, and nipples get noticeably more…. obvious. The last photo we took was about 2 days before she gave birth, and you can clearly see there is a slight… shall we say, sag to her tummy. This very much indicates possible milk production starting but also that the babies are on the move!
Welcome to the World, Little Ones!
The morning of the 27th we were very excited to find 4 very little, very cute bundles of joy waiting in the nest box. Pong is well practiced, very trusting and good at coming out of the nest box (for a fish, obviously) to allow us to go and have a quick check on the youngsters. We do not touch, and it is a quick in and out visual check so we are as fast as possible.
As you can see from the photos, they grow QUICK! Both mum and dad are being brilliant parents. We were a bit worried at first about how Bob was going to be, and he seemed very unsure when Pong was not allowing him in the box on that first day.
However, Pong has very quickly realised though, that Bob is there to help and is quick to take the opportunity for a break by going for a nice relaxing swim in the pool. Bob is a very doting father and is often the first one in the box and last out.
WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE?
As I said, every morning, the otter pups are checked first thing, just visually, to make sure everything is going smoothly. The first big milestone is at 3-4 weeks; the pup’s eyes should open, which as you can see from the pictures ours have.
We use this opportunity to mark out on our calendar the best time to microchip, sex, and give the pups their first weigh in. This week, that time came.
Armed with scales, microchips and a camera we discovered that we had 3 females and 1 male in the litter! All 4 look super healthy and very chunky. All have a very good set of lungs on them too, so they take after their mum on that front! Once swiftly weighed and chipped under the watchful eye of mum, the pups were placed back in their nest box in the otter house.
The next big milestone for these cuties will be between 6-8 weeks. This is when pong will start to notice the pup’s teeth growing and hopefully will start to offer the youngsters bits of fish.
For anyone who has been to the park and seen the adults before at our otter talk, you will know just how good Bob is at feeding Pong, so we are very excited for him to actively get involved with the feeding of the pups as well.
After that, we should expect Pong to start bringing the pups out of the nest box in the house at around 8 weeks.
12 weeks should be around the time of their first swimming lessons. This doesn’t always look like the nicest activity; otter pups don’t naturally love the water. It basically involves being dunked under by mum a few times, with her safely holding onto them the whole time.
However, once they learn to swim they are absolutely brilliant to watch playing and splashing and zooming through the water.
So, we hope you get to see them out and about in their enclosure real soon! And that you have as much fun watching them grow as we do!
We didn’t take any bookings for our otter experience for the first couple of weeks after the pups were born but now that they are bigger, Mum and Dad are leaving them for longer and we are able to offer these experiences once again with Bob and Pong (there’s no guarantee that you will see the pups yet). Keep an eye on our social media for pup-dates on when the little ones start to leave the nest box!