Meet Athena, the Houston Zoo’s otterly adorable new resident

Athena & Danh Tu 2021
Athena & Danh Tu 2021 (Houston Zoo)

HOUSTON – The Houston Zoo recently welcomed an otterly adorable new inhabitant -- Athena, a two-year-old Asian small-clawed otter.

Known formally as Aonyx cinerea, the Asian small-clawed Otter is found in southern India, southern China, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines and lives in small streams, rivers, marshes, rice paddies, seacoasts and in mangrove, according to the Smithsonian.

Asian small-clawed otters are very vocal and use a vocabulary of at least twelve different vocalizations to contact, summon, greet, threaten and warn one another, according to the Smithsonian.

Weighing less than 10 pounds and measuring up to two feet in length, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest of the 13 otter species, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.

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The otters live up to 12 years in human care, though some have lived longer than 20 years, according to the Smithsonian.

The animals develop monogamous pairings that often last a lifetime. Female otters can have litters of up to seven pups. After a female gives birth, the male helps build a nest and gathers food, according to the Houston Zoo. Both parents help raise the pups.

In mid-August, zoo staff introduced Athena to Danh Tu, the zoo’s 11-year-old Asian small-clawed otter. The pair bonded so well during their first introduction that they were allowed in the same enclosure the next day -- They’ve been inseparable ever since, according to the zoo.

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The zoo is hopeful the pair will have offspring in the future as Asian small-clawed otters are considered a threatened species. Several factors including pollution, habitat destruction and over-hunting threaten their survival in the wild, the zoo stated in a release announcing Athena’s arrival.

Athena and Danh Tu are on display inside the Natural Encounters building located near the reflection pool near the zoo’s primary entrance. View a map of the zoo here.

The Houston Zoo is located in Hermann Park at 6200 Hermann Park Drive. For more information, visit houstonzoo.org.

Watch a video of Athena splashing around in her new exhibit:

Hankering to see more of the Houston Zoo’s otterly adorable residents? The zoo’s giant river otters are on-demand so to speak. A web cam in their enclosure offers a live look at them. Click here to watch.


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.