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Taronga Zoo houses three beautiful Asian Small-clawed Otters along our Rainforest Trail. Also known as Oriental Small -clawed Otters, these are the smallest subspecies of otter and are found throughout South East Asia.

Taronga’s mischievous trio comprises of two males; ‘Houdini’ and ‘Soa’ and their older sister ‘Bising’. Bising is 13 years old and is the smallest of the three and tips the scales at just under 3kg. Her brothers weigh in at the imposing 4kg and are both 12 years old. In the wild this would be quite a grand age to reach but with the luxury life they enjoy at Taronga, they can expect to reach up to 20 years of age! The three are incredibly close and spend all of their time together.

Otters are very intelligent and social animals. As zoo keepers, we are constantly trying new ideas and coming up with different ways to keep our animals stimulated, active and content. We make all their feeds challenging and complex so they have to work for their food like they would in the wild. For example, we use treat balls, plastic tubs, puzzle feeders and even plastic bottles to hide their food in. At other times we scatter and hide their food over the whole exhibit so they have to search and forage. Otters have a very high metabolism and in the wild spend a great portion of their day searching for food, so we replicate this here at the Zoo feeding them eight times a day! They are excellent hunters and at Taronga they enjoy a diet comprising mostly of seafood such as pilchards, whiting, yabbies, whitebait and prawns. They will also snack on tasty treats including peanuts and mealworms. Otters are very vocal animals and will definitely let you know if the food you are feeding them isn’t coming fast enough.

Bising poking the fishy treat out
Bising poking the fishy treat out

We also give the otters plenty of other things to do. They really love new smells so we spread and spray essential oils, spices and even perfume around the exhibit to give them exciting new scents to sniff out. We also get big bags of leaves and mulch for them which they love to explore and play in!

The otters also get given plenty of browse every day for nesting material. They will make their own “beds” so we put in plenty of bamboo, ginger leaves, straw and plant material which they retrieve and decide how they are going to make their nests. They are incredibly fussy about their nests and take this task very seriously. Sometimes though, they bite off more than they can chew and try to drag whole branches into their nesting logs.

Otters are also extremely agile and are amazing to watch gliding through the water after their food.  Their backbone is incredibly flexible so it is quite a sight to observe their underwater acrobatics. You can also often spot them searching throughout the rocks and pebbles at the bottom of their pool for any bits of food they may have missed. Bising also loves to use the waterfall in her exhibit to slide down and ambush her brothers swimming below.

Make sure next time your down at the Rainforest Trial you check out our cheeky otters – who knows what antics they might be up to next!

-  By Jordan, Otter Keeper

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