An 'otterly' good conservation breeding programme

Posted: 14th March, 2016

It’s another first for the UK – popular giant otter brothers Simuni and Akuri, who have delighted visitors to New Forest Wildlife Park for the last few years – have been chosen to go to Colombia as part of a prestigious international breeding programme.

It is the first time captive giant otters will have been sent from the UK to Colombia. Simuni and Akuri, noted for their loud and boisterous outdoor play, and with a popular following, will eventually be matched with two unrelated female partners in Cali Zoo in Colombia. Although the brothers, who are very close, will remain together when they first arrive, it’s hoped they will eventually start their own separate families of this rare and endangered species.

Two female giant otters are to be sent to New Forest Wildlife Park in their place, probably from Dortmund Zoo in Germany.

“The paperwork is all proceeding and is strictly controlled, but we can expect to get the go ahead at any time over the next few weeks or months,” said NFWP Curator Jason Palmer. “So it’s a good time to come and say goodbye to the two brothers this spring, when they will hopefully be out playing in the sunshine.

“This is a big thing and involves the top level of international species management in zoos. There are fewer than 60 individual captive giant otters in European zoos and many of them are related. Akuri and Simuni will play an important role in a programme designed to expand the gene pool and secure healthy breeding populations of captive giant otters worldwide.”

Akuri and Simuni, both five and a half years old, were born to their parents Manoki and Panambi at the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire and were moved to the New Forest Wildlife Park after their parents gave birth to another litter. Roger and Carol Heap, who own both parks, were the first people in the UK to successfully breed captive giant otters and one of Akuri and Simuni’s younger brothers, Katuma, has already been sent to Port of Spain Zoo in Trinidad to breed.

“The staff are going to miss Simuni and Akuri a lot, and I suspect many visitors will too – they are very intelligent and are real characters,” said Jason. “But we know there’s a good chance they will do really good things for their species, so we are happy about the move too.

“When we get the go-ahead they will travel together, close by but in separate crates, and will also stay together for a time when they arrive – giant otters are very sociable and family oriented so it will be important that they stay together for as long as possible and until they form their own family groups.”

Giant otters are listed on the IUCN Red List for endangered species, with only an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 remaining in the wild in their native South America. It’s estimated that their population will decline in the wild by 50% over the next 25 years.

Giant otter populations have declined due to illegal hunting and because of loss or degradation of their natural habitats due to mining, deforestation, fishing, pollution and climate change. The largest of the world’s 13 otter species, giant otter males attain an overall length of 1.5 to 1.8m and weigh between 26 and 32 kg, while females generally measure 1.5 to 1.7m in length and may weigh between 22 and 26 kg. The giant otter frequents rivers, streams, lakes, and swamps of tropical lowland rainforests and the species is particularly vulnerable to human disturbance.


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