An Otter's New Friend

Posted at 10:34 am December 4, 2008 by Nerissa Foland

This past April in the San Diego Zoo’s Ituri Forest habitat, African spotted-necked otter Pori gave birth to a new baby girl we’ve named Lila. Along with the excitement of this birth, we were also a little apprehensive about how mom would treat her older daughter, Mugo. Our experience with spotted-necked otters in the past prepared us for the possibility of Mugo being expelled from the group when the new baby and mom joined them.

Pori usually keeps her pup away from the rest of the family for about two months. Two months is when the pup’s fur becomes waterproof and she is ready to take that first dip in the water. There isn’t much research on spotted-necked otter behavior in the wild, but when contacting other institutions that house this species, we’ve found other females also reject their older daughters in correlation to having another litter of pups. So, when Mugo’s behavior indicated that she was being pushed out, we made plans to find an alternative place for her to live. Fortunately for her, another young female spotted-necked otter living at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with her family was in the same predicament and needed a new home. And so Kazana came to the San Diego Zoo and was introduced to Mugo!

As you can imagine, being separated from your family is scary, even a family that is urging you to leave. But I am happy to say that the girls have become fast friends and I was excited to let them explore their home in Ituri Forest together. For our regular visitors, you know that Ituri Forest has two large exhibits separated by the guest walkway. What you may not realize is that the exhibits are joined only by the otter bedrooms directly under your feet. This allows us to have separate groups of animals live in each exhibit, everyone with their own bedroom space. It also allowed me to continue taking care of Mugo AND her new friend, Kazana! And since Mugo had been in the north exhibit a time or two before, this allowed her to show Kazana the ropes quite quickly.

After a few days of getting familiar with the exhibit, it was time to introduce the girls to the Allen’s swamp monkeys that share their new home! The troop living in the north exhibit is made up of Mr. Toad, Karen, Bunzi, Kinah, and Makonnen (see Nerissa’s previous blog, Swamp Monkey Checks Out Visitors). As usual, Bunzi and her two kids Kinah and Makonnen ran straight to the cliffs over the waterway to search for new toys or treats that we frequently hide for them there. As it turned out, we had a new form of enrichment for them that day!

Kinah was the first to spot Mugo and Kazana and she let out a loud chirp to alert the troop. Having lived with swamp monkeys all her life, Mugo seemed unfazed. Kazana, however, was immediately interested and ran straight up the embankment to get a better look. This caused quite a bit of excitement for monkey mom and babies, and soon the whole monkey troop was chasing Kazana back into the water. This high-speed game of tag went on for a while but then everyone settled into a new routine. The monkeys went into the high trees to nap and the otters cruised up the waterfall to find a nice warm bed for themselves. Of course, all of this was to be repeated every few hours for the next couple of days!

It’s been a few weeks since Mugo and Kazana have joined the swamp monkeys in Ituri Forest, and although they often play tag, much to our guests’ delight, it seems to be all in fun now. I’m now waiting for Mugo and Kazana to up the ante and meet their other neighbors: Helen the forest buffalo, Chelsea the forest hog, and Oboi the red river hog. I’ll keep you posted!

Nerissa Foland is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read a previous blog about the otters of Ituri Forest, Kinah Meets the Otters.

Read a blog about Mugo’s birth, Otter Pup at the Zoo.

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8 Responses to “An Otter's New Friend”

  1. Kris says:

    A lot of excitement going on there! I am glad the 2 girls became fast friends. Hopefully all will go well as you continue to integrate them with their other “neighbors”. I didn’t realize all these different species co-habitated. Thanks for the info.

  2. nancy from michigan says:

    what a cute post! I love otters as they are so playful and full of mischief! kind of sad that their mother’s turn them out when the new babies come along! oh well, that’s animal life! the swamp monkeys are quite funny too and full of energy and mischief also. they are so little though…….! I am glad that the two little girl otters have each other now. maybe that will alleviate the lonliness and sadness of the separation from their previous family. at least they can love and play and make a new life now with one of their own.

    thanks for all the info.

  3. Calvin from Canada says:

    So let me get this straight,was’nt Pori the cub born back a few years ago or who all is the whole family

  4. Nerissa says:

    Mugo was the pup born in January of 2006. (See Nerissa’s blog about Mugo’s birth:

    The north exhibit houses our otter girls: Mugo and Kazana. The south exhibit houses Pori (mom), Mzee (dad), Khalil (3-year-old son), and Lila (8-month-old-daughter).

  5. Baby Lila says:

    Aww! I am so glad that Lila has survived!

  6. Pepsi Coke says:

    It sounds like Kazana and Mugo will have fun together!

  7. Melissa says:

    This is a story that was interesting, happy and sad all at the same time. I am now wondering whether the otters have had the occasion to get to know the forest buffalo, the forest hog, and/or the red river hog yet?

  8. Laura Park says:

    Im glad Kazana and Mugo are frieds