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Otterly Inseparable
Asian otters kissing
Arista, left, and Javin are inseparable.

From around a corner, two little faces peer out. Eyes are bright, noses sniff inquisitively. Then out pour two lithe otters, like a rivulet of the water they love to play in.

It’s Arista and Javin, two new Asian small-clawed otters who’ll debut this week in the Asian Forest Sanctuary of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. They only just met – but they’re already inseparable.

“Javin is outgoing and eager to meet new keepers and animal neighbors,” says assistant curator Erin. “Arista is more shy and reserved until she gets to know you.”

small-clawed otter.
Arista the small-clawed otter.

The otters’ arrival takes the number of Asian rainforest species at the Zoo to nine. The two otters had never met before: Javin, 13, came from Woodland Park Zoo and Arista, who’s 2, from Columbus Zoo.

But once introduced, they’ve become very comfortable with each other, say keepers. They’re recommended for breeding under their Species Survival Plan® with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, though it might take a little while before any otter pups arrive.

small-clawed otter.
Javin the small-clawed otter.

The smallest of the world’s 13 otter species, Asian small-clawed otters are found in southern India and China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They live in streams, rivers, marshes, rice paddies, coasts and mangrove swamps, eating crustaceans, mollusks and small fish. They’ll occasionally eat insects, reptiles and amphibians as well. A very vocal species, they use at least 12 different vocalizations to communicate, as well as chemical and tactile signals. They can live up to 12 years, usually in highly social groups.

Asian small-clawed otter populations are declining rapidly in the wild, threatened by habitat loss and exploitation for the illegal pet trade.

two small-clawed otters
Small-clawed otter Arista runs around Javin.

At Point Defiance Zoo, the two new otters are thoroughly enjoying exploring the different habitats in the Asian Forest Sanctuary, where all animals rotate daily and weekly. Javin makes sure to scent-mark everywhere he goes, while Arista loves playing with ice given to the pair by keepers as enrichment treats – especially in the hot days of summer. Arista’s clearly the leader, running swiftly to investigate every corner and dive into pools, while Javin follows.

“They’re really fun to watch, and I’m sure guests will love them,” says Telena Welsh, curator of Asian animals.

Arista and Javin can be seen most days of the week around the Asian Forest Sanctuary habitats.

asian otter diving into pool
Arista dives into the waterfall pool.