Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mischievous Otters

We let the otters out of their enclosure every day to get exercise and explore. They just get into everything and you have to watch they don't hurt themselves with out human things.

Here they are being silly and getting into just about everything. This is just in one hour a few mornings ago. I have never seen an creature as nosy as otters, and as able to get at anything as well. Their paws are not fully webbed, which gives them great gripping power. Small clawed otters are a tactile species. Even when looking some where else, their paws and arms could be halfway in a crack or any hole.

Don't leave your sneakers or slippers out. They will stick their fish smelly faces into them, then
turn around and run off with your slippers.
At the suggestion of my otter mentor, Lesley Wright of, I cut some holes into 1.5 liter plastic bottles and stuck their fish in it. It made it more fun and interesting for them to eat.
Here is one of the otters trying the backward stroke since the forward stroke didn't seem to work.

Here they are with each their own bottle. Otters do tend to team up though.
Eventually the otters did team up and one held the bottle, while the other reached in and
got the fish!
Here is one of the boys getting into our sports bucket. Tsk Tsk.

Jumping into a bucket meant to wash down our electric trike! They kept muddying the water,
so when we washed the etrike, it just got worse until we put them away.

One otter boy found a frog, who decided he would be safe somewhere inside the motorbike. It
worked. Otter boy got bored and went off to get into something else.
Otter boy trying to open the etrike door by wedging his hand under it. 

Otters will jump into anything with water. Even given a bigger bucket, if one goes into a smaller
one, they will both start vying for it. Squeezed in as they are, they love it.
"What's it gots in its pocketses??"
"I think I otter have a look."
Please listen to this original song by composer/pianist/singer Tony Pollard on iTunes. If you buy it 99% of all funds will go to feeding the otters and for their caretaker. Many thanks. Click HERE to go to the iTunes link. You can also listen to it for free.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Otters-Born to be Wild

Last month a researcher a from national TV station, GMA7, called and asked if was OK if the otters came out on their show called, "Born to be Wild".  I just recently heard of the show, the first national environmental and wildlife show, by actual wildlife veterinarians. I had their Facebook news feed on my wall as well. A chap named Doc Nielsen was the show host and he would come here, film the otters and interview me.

Knowing first hand, the plight of the otters and the general public's ignorance to their very existence, spurred me to agree to have them featured, in order for them to be understood, protected and valued more alive and free in the wild.
Entering the otter enclosure with Doc. Nielsen of Born to be Wild show on GMA7 and
cameramen behind us.
When I met Doc. Nielson Donato, the show host, I was immediately put at ease by his sincerity to really help the otters. I have had other TV stations film another wild animal I fostered, a baby pangolin, and I felt it was more of a good sound byte. But Doc Nielsen, being a wildlife vet, is sincerely interested in helping not only the otters, but all wild and domestic animals.

Our assistant Jhun, (in white sleeveless t-shirt) with the otters and crew in the mangroves nearby.
 Our otters shot by Born to be Wild.

The show came on this morning and I was very pleased with the result. Doc Nielsen did a good job of getting out some of the most important information given the short time frame for that segment.
Explaining what I know about the otters to the show host Doc. Nielsen Donato.
I was sort of hoping they would say that Palawan otters are monogamous.  I feel people can relate to that, and how the family sticks together with only the Alpha parents having the litters, with the siblings raising each subsequent one.  If you capture or kill the parent of a large family, up to 12 individual otters will have to find their own way in life and start their own families. The pups or kits needing suckling, will die. With two litters per year, from the Alpha otter female, the odds are that several babies perish. That is what happened to the otters in my care. Their entire family broke up by the death of the alpha female, their mom. It means that the habitat they are in, the mangroves in this case, will have all that much more habitat claimed as their territory.

The particular mangrove our otters are from is not that large. So if we release them there,  it is a possibility that fights, sometimes fatal, will ensue. Which of course is worrisome to me.

I am happy Doc. Nielsen explained why the otters are vulnerable, most people don't even know otters exist in the Philippines, only in Palawan. It's a good start for public awareness. Take a moment to watch the show. If nothing else, seeing the otters interact is very cute and adorable.
Photo by Born to Be Wild show, GMA7 of Doc Nielsen with one of the otters.
The otters part starts at around 11:16 mins. Unfortunately, it's only in Tagalog. This is part I- Part II has the rest of the story.

Born to be Wild show aired June 22, 2014 - Part II - With Doc Nielsen Donato.

Please listen to this original song by composer/pianist/singer Tony Pollard on iTunes. If you buy it 99% of all funds will go to feeding the otters and for their caretaker. Many thanks. Click HERE to go to the iTunes link. You can also listen to it for free

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Otter Mangrove Adventures

Our assistant leading the otters to the tide pools
for the very first time. They always followed
so close behind. Now at 7 months, they are not
so easy to lure back into the cage!
Once the otters learned to swim well in the creek around 3 months old, we began to take them to the mangroves and tide pools nearby so they could forage on their own. Sometimes we drive to the mangroves and sometimes we take them in our own local banca, or pump boat. They are from a mangrove forest a few kilometers away. Their mother was killed when the villagers were clearing land.

These Asian small clawed otters, they live on land near bodies of water such as rivers, mangroves, rice fields, as opposed to the sea, like most other otters. Their hand are partially webbed which gives they a great deal of dexterity.

Small clawed otters live in family groups of up to 12. The parents mate for life and each subsequent litter of pups raises the next. The siblings do not leave the fold until one of the parents dies or is killed, as is the case of these otters. Their whole family was disbanded when their mother was accidentally killed.

The local children had never seen an otter up close before. They said they have seen and heard wild otters in the mangroves early in the morning and at dusk.
Photo by Dave Dewbre. One of the otters after it jumped off the pump boat and into the water
Yup that's me, taking a video of the otters with my GoPro Hero2. Photo by Dave Dewbre
The otter's main diet in the wild is mud skippers, mollusks, and crabs. Photo by Dave Dewbre
Photo by Dave Dewbre

When they are not foraging or eating, they are playing. They are very clever and even will work together as a team to find a way out of their enclosure.

Before the end of this year, we hope they can safely be released into their original habitat. Or nearby so they will not fight over territory with the other resident males. (UPDATE: This may no longer be possible as Palawan Council for Sustainable Development has given permits to a large developer who will ruin the eco system in the bay)

Unfortunately, many otters are confiscated from illegal wild life traders to be sold as pets, here and abroad. Some are skinned for their fur.

Check out the various otter organizations and find out how you can help the plight of the otters, which have become vulnerable worldwide. On Facebook, give them a like and share so that more people will understand how wonderful these creatures are and how important they are to our environment.

Otter Conservation News

IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group

Otter pup startled by a smallish wave! He almost flew across the water he was so scared! The pup or kits was 5 months old in this photo.
Aonyx cinerea, asian small clawed otter
Otter pup successfully caught his own crab!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

You otter love them

The orphaned otter pups needed to be fed every 3 hours, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the first 2 months. Myself and my one helper got very little sleep. But with faces like this, it was hard not to love them.

"Oh man! You've never done this before have you?"

"Stop! You're cracking me up!"

"hmmm what was I gonna say?"

The little guys always had to touch each other when they were this age.

Here is a sample of the data I sent back about feeding schedules to the various otter organizations to make sure we were doing it right.

Since there were three of them we had to find a way to distinguish them. We used food coloring to dye patches on them. Later we clipped each ones' fur in a different place to tell them apart since they all looked alike to me. This was before we knew their combined poo and pee was called spraint. We also weighed them as we then identified them by weight. Being a non scientific person, I did the best I could.

October 1-2013:  3 baby otter brought to farm. Eyes and ears still closed.
Weights are 330 and 350 grams
Gave low lactose puppy/kitten- powder, using filtered watered to mix, glucose first then slowly added the milk.

Took bottle 12:30 pm all three  got 2 ml warmed to body temp
3:55 pm feeding
1 pup 4 ml red - weighs 320 grams - healthy stool
Pup 2 blue -3 ml.  weighs 330 grams - urinated and defecate normal
No mark pup 8ml  weighs 340 grams - urine -stool normal

10-2-2013 -6:55pm
Blue pup 5mil -urine only
NC pup 12 mil - feces - urine
Red pup 8 mil - no feces or urine

10-03-2013 / 3:15AM
Nm pup 340 grams before feeding 12 mil
320 gram pup  feces urine 11 mil
330 gram pup urine 6 mil

6:15 am feeding
340 gram pup. 12 mil. Urine feces
330 gram pup. 11 mil. Urine few feces
320 gram pup. 11 mil urine few feces

350 grm pup drank 11mil non lactose milk - urine only
330 gram pup drank 11mil - feces urine
320 gram pup 12 mil

10:14 Am
350 grams right clipped urine drank 9mil-22 cm 10 cm
Rear clipped 349 grams - - 23cm head to butt, tail 9 cm
Left clipped pup-349 grams -
Body length - 23c m head to butt, tail 11 cm

Rear clipped - 12 mil. Deficated and urinated
Right -front clipped- 11 mil.   "      "
Left fr - 12 mil  urinated and defecated.

For the first 2 to 3 weeks they needed to be toileted. They do not pee or poo on their their genitals needed to be gently rubbed in order for them to go toilet!!! This, I can tell you was no fun! It was a stinky, smelly job, but it had to get done.

Later, when they would go on their own, they would toilet on each other as they crawled over each other and we had to wipe them down with warm towels several times a day to keep clean. It was a very stinky job, and one I was not fond of, but it had to be done to keep them clean. For over 2 months, this was pretty much my life!

Otter pup or kit before it's eyes and ears opened.

When the otter's eyes opened, we were able to put them into a carry case and into an animal enclosure we built for another wild orphan. They became too stinky to keep in the downstairs kitchen or our bedroom.

In this video, they are about an month old and had to be cleaned up several times a day as they would go to the bathroom on each other when they would rub their genitals across each other when crawling about!

Please listen to this original song by composer/pianist/singer Tony Pollard on iTunes. If you buy it 99% of all funds will go to feeding the otters and for their caretaker. Many thanks. Click the photo to go to the iTunes link. You can also listen to it for free.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Otters of Palawan

Three baby otters in a square plastic market bag.
I had no idea what they were, until I remembered
seeing an article about otters in Palawan.
When I show people photos of the otters in our care, almost everyone is surprised to learn that Palawan even has them. I thought I'd share my experiences with these wonderful creatures and how I've come to learn how important they are to our ecosystem, before they go the way of the pangolin or scaly anteater. People are just now finding out about the pangolin, but it's almost too late, as they being harvested at alarmingly epic rates as a food delicacy and for "traditional Chinese medicine", which has no scientific basis. In fact the pangolin is the most endangered animal on the planet today. I don't want this to happen to the otters.

All three orphaned pups were, what we thought at the time, males. We have since found out they were all females. I was lucky I had on hand some puppy/kitten, low lactose milk to feed them with. Since otter's milk is 6% higher in fat, I had to add full dairy cream, and to offset that I added probiotic pills to help them digest it. They did very well on this for 2 1/2 months. We then ran out of puppy milk and couldn't find any at all on the island. I did find some human infant formula that was non lactose..but after 3 days their fur began to fall out, which freaked me out. I wrote to the wonderful women of the various otter organizations and, was advised to go ahead and wean them since they were getting of age to do so.  We found small fish fingerlings to give them and within a week, their fur grew back! When we didn't find the right fish, we supplemented their diet with scrambled eggs again, upon advice.

Otter pups/kits eyes  and ears,do not open
for about a month. They were totally helpless.
Palawan's otters are hunted and eaten by certain villagers in my community! Some are sold to poachers, then to a middleman for the illegal wildlife trade in places such as Singapore where it is still legal to own them as pets, as far as I know.

Otters in Palawan are called Asian small clawed otters since their claws are indeed small. They are monogamous, which means they mate for life. The female gives birth to 2 litters per year and each subsequent litter is raised by the siblings and taught to swim, hunt and even where to go to the toilet. Their combined method of peeing and pooing at the same time is called "sprainting".  There is one communal toilet and then there are sprainting areas that mark their territories and boundaries.

After about a month, they began to open their eyes, but couldn't focus too well.
With a face as cute as this, I don't understand how people can hunt and eat them.
I searched the web on how to care for them and found several organizations dedicated to preserving, rescuing and rehabilitating otters. Without them I would have been totally lost and insecure. The organization that has helped me most over the years has been, IOSF - International Otter Survival Fund, without whom, I would have been so lost.
At around 2 months old, be let them wander into our creek. At first they were quite reticent.
When otters are small their fur is not yet waterproof and they look more like wet rats than otters, except for the blunt faces. So cute though no matter what. The wild otter pups are always with their siblings and quite needy, so we had to hold them a lot and give them lots of attention.

When we weaned them, we needed to make sure they also had plenty of water on hand to drink. We had a shallow basin which was for the bottom of a planter and we used that. They were introduced to water there with no fear of drowning. Later we let them follow us to the creek we have on the property and there they would frolic for a few minutes a day and then they wanted back to the lair. Not so later on. Now it is hard to keep them from the water!

One of the otters at 4 months old.
I hope that if you read my tales of these otters you will share your new knowledge with those who tell you they hunt or sell them. It all starts with us educating those we come in contact with instead of judging them, which does no good. We need to find a sustainable livelihood for poachers and try to teach them that when all the animals of Palawan are gone, then what will they do?

This is what the little guys sounded like when they woke up and wanted to eat. They basically slept most of the time.