FORT FISHER — An otter family at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher has welcomed three new pups to its brood.
Asian small-clawed otters Leia and Quincy are parents to all females, born Saturday, May 21, according to a press release from the aquarium.
“Leia is among 16 breeding female otters in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan in the United States,” the release noted.
Native to Indonesia, southern China, southern India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines, the newborns are the smallest of the otter species. Asian small-claws are listed “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
“Population numbers are declining because of several threats, including residential and commercial development, deforestation, the illegal pet trade, pollution, climate change, and poaching,” according to the aquarium’s release.
Leia, 3, and Quincy, 8, are first-time parents. The birth of the three pups was overseen by Fort Fisher aquarists Shannon Anderson and Vickie Burgfeld. They weighed in between 56 and 71 grams at birth.
“Because pregnancies in this otter species can be difficult to detect and stillbirths are not uncommon, we were thrilled when we began seeing Leia and Quincy gingerly moving the newborn pups from one den to another and were able to count a total of three,” Anderson said in the release.
A radiograph of Leia’s abdomen did not indicate she was carrying pups on May 11, aquarium staff noted. Though her belly was growing and weight gain indicated otherwise; the gestation period is 68-72 days.
By May 20, though, the otter was creating a nest and “showing heightened signs of excitement.” The next day, two otters were found initially by staff and a third discovered later in the day as Leia was moving the pups.
So far the parents have been attentive to the offspring, which have doubled their weight and are gaining strength. They will be moved into “The “Otters on the Edge” habitat — one of the first exhibits visitors see upon entering the aquarium — once the pups are swimming proficiently and eating solid foods.
“We know our community is as excited as we are to see these cute little pups in person,” Dr. Emily Christiansen, chief veterinarian for North Carolina Aquariums, said in the release. “[H]owever, to ensure they remain safe and healthy, the family will be staying behind the scenes until the pups are more developed and mobile, and Leia and Quincy are ready to venture beyond the nest.”
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is located south of Kure Beach on U.S. 421, less than a mile from the Fort Fisher ferry terminal. The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and admission is $3-$12.95. Reservations are required.
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