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Otterly Wonderful News: Valkyrie gives birth to four river otter pups!

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
Photos by Animal Keeper Allison Barr

We have some extremely exciting news to share with you. On March 16, Valkyrie, our fierce, fast and precocious river otter gave birth to four little pups. These baby otters are the first offspring for mom Valkyrie and dad Ziggy, who are both 5 years old.

Teeny, tiny otter pups! These are the first river otter pups born at Woodland Park Zoo.
The pups are very tiny, fuzzy and snuggled up close to mom in a cozy off-view den. At just weeks old, the pups are busy nursing and curling up into adorable otter balls while they sleep. Animal care staff are closely monitoring the new family via a den cam. “The first year is crucial for otter pups. Because Valkyrie is a first-time mother, we want to be sure she’s providing appropriate care for each pup,” explains animal care manager Deanna DeBo. “We’re happy to report each pup has a fully belly, a good sign they’re nursing. She’s being a good mom and providing attentive maternal care.”

Our animal health team was able to do a quick wellness check on the pups and confirmed there are two females and two males. (Squeeee!) The pups weigh just between 10 and 12 ounces each. This means that collectively, the pups weigh almost as much as one coconut. (That's official otter math.)

Quick check up before being placed back with mom in the cozy den.
The otterlettes will open their eyes at about a month old, but for now the quadruplets are completely helpless, relying solely on Valkyrie for food, warmth and protection. Dad Ziggy is doing what an otter dad shouldhe's in a separate space giving mom and pups the quiet, bonding time they need. Male river otters do not play a part in rearing the pups, since river otters are solitary and territorial (except when mating and when the mother is living with her young pups). 

Valkyrie and Ziggy were introduced to each other in 2015 through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Otter Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos and aquariums to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of otters. Valkyrie is a very feisty otter, and when she was first introduced to Ziggy she made it clear she was not interested in sharing her space! However, over time she started to show signs of interest in Ziggy and now they get along swimmingly. 

Keeping snug while the animal health team weighs the pups and makes sure their bellies are full of milk. They were!
The North American river otters range is over most of North America in coastal areas, estuaries, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers; they can be found in water systems all over Washington state. Most of the otters folks spot in the Puget Sound are actually river otters! They love hanging out on the beach and searching for seafood treats, but are often mistaken for sea otters. River otters consume a wide variety of prey such as fish, crayfish, amphibians and birds. At the top of the food chain, river otters are an excellent reflection of the health of local ecosystems.

Video: Valkyrie and cubs via the den cam

In the next few weeks, the pups will be growing quickly and keeping their little bellies full of milk. We promise to update you as they hit benchmarks such as opening their eyes and becoming more mobile. That is, if Valkyrie let's us see them. Right now, the mama otter is being very protective of her new pups (as she should be), so we'll be patient and re-watch that den cam video about 50 times a day.

Valkyrie lives up to her namesake from Norse mythology. She's a fierce otter and an otterly awesome first-time mama. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. 
All otter species are considered threatened while five of the 13 species are endangered due to water pollution, overfishing of commercial stock and habitat destruction. To help your zoo contribute information to sustainable breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the river otter, you can adopt your own otters in honor of the new pups! Visit ZooParent to adopt today. You can also do your part by keeping waterways clean: prevent polluted streams and rivers by cleaning up areas near your home and remember, never dump chemicals (paint, cleaning sprays, pesticides) down the drain.

Ziggy is sweet, shy and is the father of these new otter pups. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Duncan is our older otter who sometimes hangs out with Ziggy. He's still got some zip and he enjoys carrying rocks on his head. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
In addition to river otters, the award-winning Northern Trail habitat is home to grizzlies, elk, gray wolves, mountain goats and Steller’s sea eagles. The Northern Trail will be reimagined through the lens of the Pacific Northwest’s exceptional ecosystem and will open in 2020 as Living Northwest. Funds raised through the Living Northwest Initiative will create a new exhibit experience that will be a revitalization of the Northern Trail and will become a hub for engaging zoo guests and community members around discovery, species recovery, human-wildlife coexistence, and saving the wildlife and ecosystems right here at home for the benefit of every species.

To donate to the Living Northwest Initiative, visit