Five rare Asian short clawed otter pups have been born at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire and keepers have stepped in to help the runt of the litter.
The keeper team initially took a ‘hands off’ approach when the five pups were born in July, to avoid upsetting the first-time parents Kelani and Kovu. However keepers became concerned that the runt, named Koji (meaning “little one”), hasn’t been growing as fast as his siblings.
Asian short clawed otters are classed by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as vulnerable to extinction and most litters have just a few pups, so the keepers are delighted to discover the five new faces.
Lianne Hyslop, senior keeper at Woburn Safari Park, said: “We’ve been keeping a close eye on little Koji as he was half the weight of his big sister at five weeks old, and by the second weigh-in the pup had lost another 2 grams.
“Koji was obviously struggling to compete with his siblings to get enough milk, so we are now feeding him with small regular top-ups of milk formula.
“The good news is that his parents are familiar with our scents so we are able to assess him without causing disruption and he is growing stronger every day.
“We have completely fallen in love with him and his squeaky demands for milk.”
Since the keepers started giving Koji extra milk he has doubled in weight and spends most of his time chasing after his parents in their purpose-built enclosure.
While he will likely always be the smallest of the litter, Koji has even caught the attention of Jason Palmer, the Global Species Advisor for the IUCN ‘Otters in Zoos Taskforce’.
Jason said: “I was thrilled to learn of the litter at Woburn and that both Kovu and Kelani have been outstanding first time parents, only needing a little bit of help from their keepers with the smallest member of the family.
“Thanks to the dedication of the keepers it has been stress-free for all and the whole family is doing really well, it’s a real pleasure to see such a healthy and happy litter of pups.”
Earlier in August the Park gave the public the chance to enter an online competition to name Koji’s brother and the winning name for the pup is Kazuki, meaning first of a new generation.
The keepers also gave the remaining siblings Asian names to match, including Kaida and Kumari for the two sisters and Kobe for the other male.
Over the next few weeks the litter will be slowly introduced to pools of water so that the pups can practise swimming, and when they are older they will have full access to the waterfall in their ‘otter falls’ enclosure, so that they can swim as they would in the wild.