ATLANTA – Zoo Atlanta welcomes a new ambassador for an endangered species: Tocantins, a 10-year-old female giant otter.

A recent arrival from the Jacksonville Zoo, Tocantins was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Giant Otter Species Survival Plan® (SSP) as a companion for Bakairi, the 7-year-old male giant otter at Zoo Atlanta.

Tocantins, named for a state and river in Brazil, is one of the countries where her species is found.

The largest of the world’s otters, giant otters are found only in South American river systems, mainly in the Amazon River basin and Pantanal. They are also referred to as “river wolves” for their roles as some of their ecosystem’s most tenacious top predators. Giant otters reach lengths of 6 feet, and males may weigh up to 70 pounds.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Tocantins to the Zoo Atlanta family. Giant otters are very dynamic and engaging animals, but they also have an important conservation story to tell,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Vice President of Animal Divisions.

“This species helps us share the need to protect the natural-heritage treasures of places like the Amazon River basin, an ecosystem which must be preserved for the countless other mammals, fishes, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and plants that need its resources for their survival," said Murphy. 

Currently classified as endangered, giant otters are among the most threatened mammals in the Neotropics.

Their primary threats include habitat degradation, habitat loss, population fragmentation, pollution and disease.

The otters are also illegally hunted for their pelts, which are dark and dense with white or yellow patches on the throat and chin.

Each giant otter has an individual throat-patch pattern, much like human fingerprints.

Zoo Atlanta is an active member of many SSP programs, which exist to protect the long-term viability of animal populations housed in accredited North American zoos by working to ensure that zoological populations remain healthy, genetically diverse and self-sustaining for future generations. In addition to breeding recommendations, another important role of SSPs is to recommend social companions for social species, as is the case with Tocantins and Bakairi.

Giant otters are highly social, and Zoo Atlanta has been actively working with the Giant Otter SSP on identifying a social partner for Bakairi since the passing of his companion, Yzma, in summer 2018.

Tocantins and Bakairi are relatives, so theirs is not a breeding recommendation.

Members and guests may enjoy sightings of Tocantins and Bakairi in the giant otter habitat near the entrance of the Zoo’s Asian Forest.

As giant otters are also highly vocal, visitors may also hear the pair’s distinctive vocalizations.

Visit Zoo Atlanta's website to learn more about giant otters or to plan a visit.