Three North American river otter babies born just over three months ago at the Edmonton Valley Zoo have been orphaned after their mother died of liver cancer.
The male pups are healthy and very active, the zoo says.
"Otters are such fun animals to watch," says zookeeper Brenda McComb. "These little guys are still shy but are coming out to play more often, allowing people to observe them.
"They are just learning to swim and we have decreased the amount of water in their exhibit to help them stay safe."
Cypress, the babies’ mother, died July 12 while undergoing a complete physical examination. A postmortem revealed she had liver cancer that had spread to her lungs and contributed to acute heart failure. Cypress was estimated to be between eight and nine years old. North American river otters typically live to be 8½ years old in the wild.
Cypress arrived at the zoo in June 2010 and gave birth about 10 months later. Baby otters can be born up to a year after mating, with the mother often waiting until she feels she is in a safe and supportive environment.
"Cypress showed amazing strength to nurture three babies while coping with a serious illness," said Edmonton Valley Zoo veterinarian Dr. Milton Ness. "She raised a great trio of pups and we will honour her spirit by ensuring they receive the best care possible."
Cypress’s three babies will be introduced gradually to the zoo’s other otter, Bryer. The pups weigh about two kilograms each, the upper end of the weight chart for otters their age. They have yet to be named.
The zoo is building a new otter habitat, entrance, education centre and a trail system. It's scheduled to be completed in 2013.