The Asian Small Clawed Otter
Asian Small Clawed Otter is the smallest otter in the world and is about two
feet long and weighs under ten pounds. It is among many endangered or
threatened animals in the Indianapolis Zoo's collection that serve as
ambassadors for their cousins in the wild and bring the message of animal
conservation to Zoo visitors.
Look for the otters in the
Forests Biome being exhibited with their fellow Asian residents,
the white-handed gibbons.
It has a glossy brown coat with
a lighter colored underside and sometimes white markings generally around
the face, throat, and chest area. Its feet are webbed to the last
joint of the toe instead of being webbed all the way to the beginning of
their short blunt claws, this gives the otter an excellent sense of touch
and coordination. Their large broad cheek teeth are used for crushing
the shells of crabs and mollusks.
These otters are found in Southern India and China, Southeast Asia,
Indonesia and the Philippines. They live in mangrove swamps and
freshwater wetlands. They spend more time on land than many types of
otters. They are used by fishermen in Southeast Asia to drive shoals
of fish into their nets. The otters are kept on long lines with a
harness and are allowed to eat any fish they catch. They also help
with farming, by eating the crawfish that are known for destroying crops.
Photos by Fred Cate
The Asian Small Clawed Otter catches its prey with its hand like paws
instead of its mouth like other otters tend to do. They feed on crabs,
mollusks, fish and other small aquatic animals. They use their hands
to feel around in shallow water for clams and then pile them up on the
shore. The clams will eventually open up after sitting in the sun for
a period of time and the otters are then able to eat them.
These otters have 12 different vocabulary calls besides their basic
instinctive calls. They build burrows along the water with an exit
tunnel that leads to about 3 feet under the waters surface. The water
is not only a playground but an escape route from danger. Otters have
also been seen washing their food, a behavior well adapted by raccoons.
otters are monogamous, male and female mate for life, and is one of the few
otter species that is social and not solitary in its habits. The
females gestation period last about 60-64 days and they can have anywhere
for 1-2 litters a year. Both parents stay together after breeding and
help raise the litter of up to six pups that are born helpless. Pups
don't start swimming for about 9 weeks and don't take in solid food for
about 80 days after birth. The male normally brings food back for the
mother and her pups. The pups may then stay with their parents which
starts the formation of a small social group of up to 12 individuals.
The Small Clawed Otter is becoming threatened by habitat loss, hunting for
the pet trade and their pelts, and river pollution. It is said that
you can tell how clean a river is by how healthy the otters are that live in
it. New research and attention for the otter is increasing the
attention of its Asian wetland habitat. They are protected by IOSF
(International Otter Survival Fund).
The Small Clawed Otter is known as an Species Survival Plan (SSP) group.
The Small Clawed Otter SSP was one of the first to develop and it's original
purpose was to serve as a model for the captive breeding of endangered
social otters like the Giant Otter and the Cape Clawless Otter. Since
then the Asian Small Clawed Otter has become threatened itself due to
habitat loss and the development of kidney stones in the captive otters.
Today there are approximately 110 otters in the 21 participating SSP zoos
that are being worked with to find a cure, through the diet that they would
get in the wild and what they get in captivity, for the kidney stones.
Photo by Rich Clark