Endangered Giant River Otters Introduced

Four giant river otter pups made their much-anticipated public debut Oct. 5 at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The three females and one male are the first of their species to be born at the Zoo.

As the first few months are a critical period for young otters, Zoo staff have been extra cautious through the rearing process since their birth on June 18.

The pups were born to 7-year-old mother Sarave and 11-year-old father Buddy. Sarave came to the Jacksonville Zoo in 2018 from Zoo Miami and Buddy arrived in 2011 from Guyana. Buddy is blind and the most genetically-valuable giant river otter in the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which makes these first offspring of his such a huge success for conservation.

“Breeding Buddy and Sarave has been a complex process and I am so proud of the animal care team and all of their hard work. We are even more proud of the bond Buddy has formed with his pups and how he is caring for his family, even though he is unable to see them,” said Deputy Director Dan Maloney.

Buddy was born on the banks of the Rupununi River in southwestern Guyana, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Orphaned as a pup, Buddy got a second chance at life at the Karanambu Lodge and Trust where he was raised by his surrogate mother, Diane McTurk. McTurk and her highly-trained staff rescued, rehabilitated, and reintroduced more than 50 giant otters during her lifetime.

Buddy was blinded in an accident at a young age and came to rely on McTurk and her staff for his care. Though Buddy learned to be a successful hunter through trips to the Rupununi River, the fact that he was blind made it impossible for him to return to the wild. McTurk decided to send Buddy to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens where he joined the SSP to be matched up with a potential mate. 

“The Karanambu family was elated to hear about the pups born to Buddy and Sarave. Buddy holds a special place in our hearts and remains the only animal that Karanambu has ever transferred to a zoo or aquarium. Although a tough decision, Diane ultimately decided in favor specifically because of the opportunity for Buddy to be paired with a lovely female and live out a full life at a world-class facility like the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Nothing would have made Diane happier than the news that her beloved beast blessed her with beautiful otter grandbabies,” said Melanie McTurk, Managing Director of Karanambu Lodge.

Giant river otters are endangered and the rarest mammal on the South American continent, facing threats from hunting and habitat loss. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has continued to support conservation and research in Guyana, including the vital work of UF Wildlife Biologist Dr. Matt Hallett and programs at the Karanambu Lodge and Trust. Most recently, the Zoo assisted with the restoration of the otter holding facility to care for three pups that came into their care — the first animals taken in since McTurk’s death in 2017. Funds provided by the Zoo have allowed Karanambu to hire and train staff to follow the protocols pioneered by McTurk.


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