Asian small-clawed otter, Oriental short-clawed otter, Asian short-clawed otter, Malaysian small-clawed otter, Malaysian short-clawed otter, Asian clawless otter, Small clawed otter
Oriental small-clawed otters are the smallest of the otter species. Their name comes from their very small claws. This species relies on their dexterous and sensitive fingers to forage for prey, and so lack the long claws most otters have. Due to this, there is also less webbing between the digits than other otters have. These small animals, of no more than several pounds in weight and no longer than a common rat, have gray/brown fur (with a lighter coloration on their underside, neck and face). Their slender, almost serpentine build is complemented by a large tail. They have stubby legs and blunt faces.
The Oriental small-clawed otter inhabits coastal regions in southern India to southern China and the Malay Peninsula. They adapt to a range of aquatic habitats from freshwater rivers and creeks to tropical coastal wetlands, from mountain streams to rice paddies.
These otters are the most social amongst the otter species and live in extended family groups numbering 12-20 individuals. These animals are diurnal (active during the day), inhabiting in remote areas, generally free of human disturbance, though some have adapted to living near villages. They groom their fur continually to maintain the insulating qualities. They are excellent swimmers, swimming by moving their back legs and tail. After swimming or feeding, they tend to rub against logs and vegetation in the area in order to leave their scent, a form of 'scent marking'. They usually rest and sleep on land either in their dens or somewhere above ground, often sleeping in areas of moderate disturbance. Oriental small-clawed otters are often seen playing in water (this is observable at zoos) and sliding down muddy banks in regions they frequently visit. They defend their territory by scratching, working and occasionally fighting.
Oriental small-clawed otters will form a monogamous pair for life. The alpha pair is the only one that breeds and the previous offspring help with raising the young. Breeding occurs throughout the year, two litters per year sometimes produced. After gestation of 60 days the litter of 1-6 (average 2) is born in their nesting burrow in the muddy riverbank. The males help make the nest burrow and bring food once the pups are born. Pups are relatively undeveloped when born, with eyes closed and weighing only two ounces (50 gm). The first few weeks are spent nursing every 3-4 hours. They open their eyes at around 40 days and venture outside after about 10 weeks. Pups begin eating solid food at around 80 days, and weaning takes place at about 14 weeks. They can swim when about 3 months old. Young reach their adult size after about 6 months.
The biggest threat today that faces the Oriental small-clawed otter is habitat destruction as people encroach into and drain wetland areas that these small mammals need to survive. Habitat fragmentation will eventually increase risk of inbreeding and the overall breeding success and genetic vigor. Oriental short-clawed otters have been hunted for their dense, velvety pelts, which like those of all otters, are dense with a velvety texture. Hunting is not, however, the main cause of the dwindling numbers.
No estimate of population size is available for Oriental small-clawed otters. According to the Woodland Park Zoo resource, the total population size of the species might be around 5,000 otters. Currently Oriental small-clawed otters are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are decreasing.
Oriental small-clawed otters may impact the populations of shellfish and crustaceans in their area.