Giant Otter

(Pteronura brasiliensis)




Facts about this animal

Giant otters can attain a total body length of 1.5-1.8m making them the longest of the world's 13 otter species. They can weigh 22-32kg, the sea otter is the only heavier otter species. Giant otters are highly social, living in family groups of up to 10 individuals. A group usually consists of a mated adult pair, which bonds for life, and their offspring from two or three consecutive years. Both parents and older siblings care for new cubs. After 65-77 days gestation, 1-6 cubs are born. Although cubs first ingest fish between 70-90 days of age, they are dependent on milk for at least 4 months and can nurse up to 8 months.


When sexually mature, at 2-3 years old, they leave their family group to find their own mate and territory. Giant otters can reach an age of up to 10 years in the wild and the oldest known in a zoo survived over 19 years. This diurnal species is intelligent, highly active, curious, playful, and vocal. They belong to the carnivores with the highest degree of brain development. Giant otters are primarily terrestrial, but have become very well adapted to hunt and travel in the water.


They may also travel considerable distances over land between water bodies. They build and regularly maintain multiple campsites throughout their territory by scratching and trampling substrates and vegetation and clearing vegetation away in large land areas (e.g. as long as 28m and as wide as 15m). Campsites are used for many of their land activities, including grooming, playing, resting, marking territories etc.. They dig multiple underground dens to sleep and keep young cubs in. Individuals can eat 2-4kg of fish/day, their primary diet. This species has nine different vocalizations and can call very loudly.

Did you know?
That Giant otters are land mammals that swim? They are semi-aquatic, not aquatic, and are dependent on the land and water to survive, but spend more time on land. E.g. as instinctively avid diggers and groomers, digging, both deep and shallow, and grooming in soft loose natural substrates are among their most favored and most frequently performed terrestrial activities in zoos and they use nearly their entire land area to carry them out. In zoos, they do this to exercise, play, mark territories, reduce/prevent stress and to help clean/dry themselves with loosened substrates.


Name (Scientific) Pteronura brasiliensis
Name (English) Giant Otter
Name (French) Loutre géante, Loutre géante du Brésil
Name (German) Riesenotter
Name (Spanish) Nutria gigante, Lobo de Río
Local names Brazil: Ariranha
Suriname: Grote Waterhond
CITES Status Appendix I
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
David Monniaux



Range Tropical lowland rainforests and wetlands of South America
Habitat Rivers, streams, lakes and swamps
Wild population Estimated total population of 1.000-5.000 individuals (2006) (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 60 in 2004; International Studbook established in 2003 and kept by Dortmund Zoo

In the Zoo

Giant Otter


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 80 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Jeff Egnaczyk

Why do zoos keep this animal

Giant otters in zoos can play an important role to raise public awareness about this endangered species and its habitat. Studies in zoos have contributed to overall knowledge and to the development and improvement of conservation/management strategies for wild populations. E.g., because very few field studies exist, research on life history data of zoo animals is used as a reference source for this species in the wild.