Things going swimmingly for zoo's otter family

January 30, 2014 - 1:11pm

Keepers say adventurous, independent pup Ziggy is "a little motorboat"

Otter fans visiting the Oregon Zoo this month are in for a treat. The 2-month-old North American river otter Zigzag — or Ziggy, as keepers call him — has been zipping around the zoo's Cascade Stream and Pond habitat most days until 2 p.m.

The pup, born Nov. 8 and named after the river that flows down Mount Hood through Zigzag Canyon, seems to be growing into his name, keepers say — zigging this way and that, and scampering away from his mom, Tilly, when she tries to lead him indoors.

"Human parents often notice that the second child is much more independent," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America area. "We are definitely noticing that with our second otter. He is way more independent than Mo was. Once Ziggy started walking, he has just been on the go. He's a little motorboat."

Ziggy's older brother, Molalla, made a big splash with otter fans last year when a video showing his rough-and-tumble swim lessons went viral, logging more than 620,000 views on the zoo's YouTube channel and offering a rare look at a major milestone on a pup's journey to otterhood.

"Otter pups are very dependent on their mother and they don't know how to swim right away," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America area. "The mother actually has to teach them."

Recently Tilly has been offering similar instruction to Ziggy, nudging her new pup to the water's edge and then plunging in with a firm grip on the scruff of his neck, just as otter moms do in the wild.

"Tilly has been teaching Ziggy to do some deep dives," Christie said. "Otter pups are very buoyant, so it takes them a little bit to learn how to go underwater."

Both of Ziggy's parents — mom, Tilly, and dad, B.C. — are rescue animals who had a rough start to life.

Tilly was found orphaned near Johnson Creek in 2009. She was about 4 months old, had been wounded by an animal attack and was seriously malnourished. Once her health had stabilized, Tilly came to the Oregon Zoo in a transfer facilitated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees the species' protection.

B.C. was found orphaned near Star City, Ark., also in 2009. He was initially taken in by the Little Rock Zoo, but transferred here the following year as a companion for Tilly. The two otters hit it off quickly and have been playful visitor favorites ever since.