An Otter’s New Friend

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This past April in the San Diego Zoo’s Ituri Forest habitat, African spotted-necked otter Pori gave birth to a new baby girl we’ve named Lila. Along with the excitement of this birth, we were also a little apprehensive about how Mom would treat her older daughter, Mugo. Our experience with spotted-necked otters in the past prepared us for the possibility of Mugo being expelled from the group when the new baby and mom joined them.

Pori usually keeps her pup away from the rest of the family for about two months. Two months is when the pup’s fur becomes waterproof and she is ready to take that first dip in the water. There isn’t much research on spotted-necked otter behavior in the wild, but when contacting other institutions that house this species, we’ve found other females also reject their older daughters in correlation to having another litter of pups. So, when Mugo’s behavior indicated that she was being pushed out, we made plans to find an alternative place for her to live. Fortunately for her, another young female spotted-necked otter living at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with her family was in the same predicament and needed a new home. And so Kazana came to the San Diego Zoo and was introduced to Mugo!

As you can imagine, being separated from your family is scary, even a family that is urging you to leave. But I am happy to say that the girls have become fast friends, and I was excited to let them explore their home in Ituri Forest together. For our regular visitors, you know that Ituri Forest has two large exhibits separated by the guest walkway. What you may not realize is that the exhibits are joined only by the otter bedrooms directly under your feet. This allows us to have separate groups of animals live in each exhibit, everyone with their own bedroom space. It also allowed me to continue taking care of Mugo AND her new friend, Kazana! And since Mugo had been in the north exhibit a time or two before, this allowed her to show Kazana the ropes quite quickly.

After a few days of getting familiar with the exhibit, it was time to introduce the girls to the Allen’s swamp monkeys that share their new home! The troop living in the north exhibit is made up of Mr. Toad, Karen, Bunzi, Kinah, and Makonnen (see Nerissa’s previous blog, Swamp Monkey Checks Out Visitors). As usual, Bunzi and her two kids, Kinah and Makonnen, ran straight to the cliffs over the waterway to search for new toys or treats that we frequently hide for them there. As it turned out, we had a new form of enrichment for them that day!

Kinah was the first to spot Mugo and Kazana, and she let out a loud chirp to alert the troop. Having lived with swamp monkeys all her life, Mugo seemed unfazed. Kazana, however, was immediately interested and ran straight up the embankment to get a better look. This caused quite a bit of excitement for monkey mom and babies, and soon the whole monkey troop was chasing Kazana back into the water. This high-speed game of tag went on for a while, but then everyone settled into a new routine. The monkeys went into the high trees to nap, and the otters cruised up the waterfall to find a nice, warm bed for themselves. Of course, all of this was to be repeated every few hours for the next couple of days!

It’s been a few weeks since Mugo and Kazana have joined the swamp monkeys in Ituri Forest, and although they often play tag, much to our guests’ delight, it seems to be all in fun now. I’m now waiting for Mugo and Kazana to up the ante and meet their other neighbors: Helen the forest buffalo, Chelsea the forest hog, and Oboi the red river hog. I’ll keep you posted!

Nerissa Foland is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read a previous blog about the otters of Ituri Forest, Kinah Meets the Otters.

Read a blog about Mugo’s birth, Otter Pup at the Zoo.