Land & Conservation

Meet the Adorable Otter Pups of Brookgreen Gardens

The six youngsters enjoy wrestling, playing chase, bothering mom, taking naps, and eating treats at their coastal South Carolina home

Otter pups on a swing

Photo: courtesy of Brookgreen Gardens


Otters are known for their playfulness, and six youngsters at Brookgreen Gardens in Georgetown County, South Carolina, live up to the reputation. “There’s wrestling underwater; there’s wrestling on land; they play tag in the water; they like to shove each other off a small waterfall with a little pool at the bottom,” says Andrea DeMuth, the vice president and curator of zoo collections at the botanical garden and animal sanctuary. In that and other ways, they’re a lot like human babies: “They play and nap, play and nap” DeMuth says. Likely for the rest of the year, the pups will be on display in the otter exhibit on the 10,000-acre spread, which includes a live oak alllée, a butterfly garden, a terrace garden, and exhibits of native animals including foxes, alligators, and red wolves. 

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The six pups were born in January to parents rescued from the wild: The mother came from the Saint Johns River in Florida, and the father appeared alone as a pup on a roadway near Brookgreen. The range of North American river otters spans the whole South and most of the country; they are residents of ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes and equally adept at life on land. Historically, hunting took a toll on their numbers. Today, water pollution and car strikes threaten, and most states still allow otter trapping. Still, their population is considered stable (though some groups argue that their actual numbers are unknown). 

Pups like these, born in captivity and too habituated to humans for wild release, are part of a Species Survival Program at zoos nationwide that safeguards individuals, keeps the gene pool flowing, and ensures the health of the captive population. For their part, Brookgreen’s baby otters are thriving. “Mom is out there with them, teaching them to be otters,” DeMuth says. “She has a close watch on them—she can get them in the den box with a look.” 

Otters are smart and curious, and as they grow, zookeepers use fish and other treats to train them to follow a ball and to stand up against the mesh of their enclosure for health checks. “Because they’re very food-motivated, otters are very good to train,” DeMuth says, “even if they are too smart for their britches sometimes.” 

Below, enjoy a video of the pups swimming:

Video courtesy of Brookgreen Gardens


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