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Countdown to debut of new otters

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Otter kisses. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

In just a few days, you’ll have the chance to meet the zoo’s new pair of Asian small-clawed otters when they make their debut in the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit opening May 4. These are two tiny mustelids you won’t be able to resist.

Kids test out the new play area in Bamboo Forest Reserve. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The otters will debut alongside a tropical aviary and nature play area for kids—all part of phase one of the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit complex.

Atop a rocky ledge, looking out over the exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

To get ready for their debut, the otters have been exploring their new home, investigating every ledge, stream and den to find all the best spots for lounging, swimming, eating and playing.

Here you can catch a glimpse of the agile fingers small-clawed otters use for hunting. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Asian small-clawed otters are more terrestrial than their relatives, such as the North American river otters you see in our Northern Trail exhibit. Though, they do take to the water for swimming, fishing and even sipping a little refreshing drink.

The clear water is made possible by green design that uses biofiltration to clean and reuse water. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Their water is kept clean by some clever, green engineering that turns their entire pool into a closed-loop biofiltration system. Visible on the surface is a constructed wetland that cleans and recycles pool and rain water back into the exhibit. That means we don’t have to waste any water or dump dirty water, which also keepers our own Puget Sound waterways healthier.

A glimpse of the otters' behind-the-scenes den building behind the exhibit pool. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The sterling otter pool is one of the very first things you’ll see when you enter the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit, and that’s because the story of waterways is an essential place to start when telling the story of forests. Asian small-clawed otters are vulnerable in their native range throughout southern and southeastern Asia, due in large part to the contamination and loss of waterways in their forest habitat. A healthy forest needs healthy waterways—a conservation truth that applies to our own Northwest forests as well.

Peekaboo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Spending more and more time in the exhibit each day, the otters are beginning to adjust to their new surroundings. The 3-year-old female of the pair is a little bolder and more adventurous. She was the first to explore, and her 7-year-old male partner mostly keeps to her side. The two arrived earlier this year from other zoos, she from the Bronx Zoo and he from Zoo Atlanta, so they are taking some time to get to know each other and their new shared home. We’ll kick off a naming contest for the pair later this month.

The pair gets along swimmingly. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

The exhibit may seem big for two tiny otters—representing the smallest species of otters in the world—but it’s designed for a growing family. Our pair is recommended for breeding by the Species Survival Plan, a cooperative, conservation breeding program across Association of Zoos & Aquariums-accredited institutions. As the pair gets along swimmingly (rimshot!), we hope to add to the otter bunch soon!

One of the aviary birds, the great argus, shows its feathers. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

When you visit the otters, keep your ears tuned for the sonorous calls of the song birds in the tropical aviary behind you. More on the birds of the new exhibit later this week.

Come play with us on opening day, May 4! Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

We’ll be celebrating the grand opening of phase one of this new space on Sat., May 4 with live music, giveaways, and lots of family fun. Up next for us is phase two, which will bring new homes for Malayan tigers and sloth bears to the zoo. With continued support from the community, phase two will open in the future, completing the zoo’s largest exhibit transformation since 1996. Learn more about how to get involved at