ENJOYING HIS STUFFED TOY: Like a human toddler, Ottie enjoys playing with stuffed animals, in this case a toy rabbit. —Photos: ANISTO ALVES

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Otter-ly adorable

By Carla Bridglal
By carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

HE’S not a giraffe or a warthog, but the Emperor Valley Zoo has another new member, this time sourced closer to home—a rescued baby neotropical otter.

The tiny critter is estimated to be about four months old; he was rescued by a family in Bagatelle and brought to the zoo last month.

Zoo veterinarian Dr Vandanaa Baboolal said he has been growing steadily and she was happy to see him developing his natural instincts, but he remains very playful and friendly to humans. When he arrived, he was tiny— just 1.15 kilograms; after a month, he’s more than doubled in weight at three kilograms.

He doesn’t have a name yet—he’s just called Ottie.

The intention is to introduce him into the enclosure with the zoo’s resident female neotropical, but the two still have some getting along to do.

“She’s never really been around other otters her entire life, so she needs to get accustomed to him so they don’t hurt each other,” she said.

So far, he still needs almost round the clock care to make sure he develops accordingly, since he is without a mother to teach him. He does, however have two adoptive mothers, zoo staffers Ashana Gibran and Kathy Forde.

He is still bottle-fed goat’s milk and fish has been introduced into his diet, but every day he goes swimming in a special pond with small fish to help him develop hunting skills. On Saturday, to the delight of the crowds and
his handlers, he chased the fish through the water, although he didn’t catch any.

Neotropical otters are classified as an endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In Trinidad and Tobago, the species is protected, making it illegal to kill, or cause to be killed, an otter. However, infrastructural development on the animal’s natural habitat is bringing them in closer and more frequent encounters with humans.

Back in October, an otter became the unwitting star of the Point Fortin Highway Re-Route Movement’s campaign after a photograph of him appeared in the Express looking apparently lost and confused in the Tarouba river, which runs parallel to the highway construction.

The animals are found in riparian environments, and their range is throughout Central and South America; Trinidad is the only island on which they are found. Here, they can be found around major waterways around the country, although they prefer clear, fast running rivers.

They aren’t usually a target for hunters, at least not for meat or skins, but they are often killed mistakenly by those hunting caimans. Because of habitat loss through human encroachment and infrastructural development they are also at risk from being chased by dogs and even getting knocked down by traffic.

At the very least, this little one is proudly representing his kind, helping to educate and entertain people—highlighting the plight of neotropical otters, and just being incredibly cute.
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