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Nina: Female, born at a zoo in Brazil on May 20, 2000. Received on breeding loan from the government of Brazil on October 22, 2002.
Nina has successfully raised 20 pups at the Philadelphia Zoo. Twelve of those pups have gone to zoos across the country, including Jacksonville Zoo, Dallas World Aquarium, Los Angeles Zoo, Miami Metroparks, and Moody Gardens.
Two pups are still with their mom:
Yeyuno: Female, born June 4, 2010
Thor: Male, born May 3, 2011
The otters are most active between 10-11 am and at the end of the day between 3-5 pm. They enjoy napping mid-day when the weather's really warm!
“Lobo del Rio” or the giant otter is the largest of the non-marine otters and may be found only in South American river systems. They have a blunt, sloping muzzle with long vibrissae (whiskers) along with a ventrally flattened tail. Their flattened tail enables them to swim with great speed and maneuver easily underwater. The otters’ forefeet are shorter than their hind feet and each foot has 5 toes with sharp non-retractile claws and webbing that reach the tips of the toes. Their ears are small and round and like their nostrils, can be closed by special muscles when underwater.
A giant otter’s fur is so dense that the water never reaches the skin, even when swimming. Otter guard hairs trap air and keep the dense inner fur dry. The coat is mainly brown or gray is usually darker on the back and lighter on the chest, throat and undersides. On the throat is a uniquely shaped, creamy white patch, like fingerprints in humans. This unique mark allows us to identify each individual otter. Throughout Europe, Asia and America, otter pelts are such highly prized fashion items that by the middle of the 20th century, over-hunting almost let to their extinction.
Giant otters may live into their late teens in a zoo setting, however a typical lifespan is 12- 14 years.
In March 2004, our female giant otter gave birth at the Philadelphia Zoo, the first North American zoo to have a successful birth. Unlike most otter species, giant otters living in the wild live in extended family groups (up to 10 per family) with strong bonds between breeding pairs. The female is the dominant partner in breeding pairs. Families usually consist of a breeding pair and their offspring which help the parents raise younger siblings. In the wild, young are born between August and October. Females have a gestation of 65-70 days. They may give birth to between 1 and 5 pups per litter.
Giant otters are more vocal than the North American river otters. They have very distinctive sounds and complex communication. Researchers have been able to identify and describe individual meanings of at least 9 vocalizations. Giant otters are diurnal, or active during the day. They catch prey with their mouths and hold it with their paws while eating.
They will clear areas along the banks of lakes or rivers which they use for resting and grooming. Both female and male otters scent-mark their territory. Giant otters are member of the Mustelid family, which also includes weasels, skunks and ferrets. All the animals of the Mustelid family have strong scent glands.
Giant otters are about 6 feet long (1.8 meters) from head to tail.
Otters usually weigh between 60 and 70 pounds (27 and 32 kilograms). Males are slightly larger than females.
Giant otters are piscivorous, meaning they mainly eat fish. In the wild otters commonly prey on medium sized fish such as trahiras, catfish, and perch. At the Zoo, their diet includes a variety of fish including tilapia, catfish, and rainbow trout. When the otters are rearing pups, catfish ,which has a higher fat content, is increased in the mother’s diet to support lactation. Wild giant otters frequently hunt catfish in the dry season, which corresponds to the time when pups are born.
They are usually found in oxbow lakes and slow-moving rivers within the tropical rainforests of South America.
On the 2011 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the giant otter is listed as Endangered.
The Philadelphia Zoo works with partners and colleagues around the world to save wildlife. From South America to Asia to Africa, these projects are conducting research, protecting habitat, educating communities and building capacity. We are proud to support them and the important work they do.
Giant otters are very susceptible to human disturbance. With increasing human activity in the Amazon, research is needed on their adaptability to these changing conditions.
Dr. Fernando Rosas studies otters in the Balbina Hydroelectric Lake where they inhabit an area with human-constructed dams. By using radio telemetry, several groups of otters can be more easily monitored to obtain data on their movements and behavior.
Dr. Rosas’ research will help document the effects of human presence on giant otter populations and find ways to minimize impacts.
Balbina Lake, Brazil: Giant Otter Project
Learn more about the conservation efforts at the Philadelphia Zoo.
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