BLOOMINGTON — "Love in the air" at the Miller Park Zoo means new births, and others that are due soon, but, sadly, one dad won't be there to help raise his new pups.
"There's love in the air with all of the different breeding seasons going on," said zoo Superintendent Jay Tetzloff, who also heads the city's parks, recreation and cultural arts department.
"I think we'll have some new snow leopards. We'll definitely have some San Clemente Island goats," he said. "We have a female Tammar wallaby with three joeys (babies) in her pouch. Two were born in November and one was born in August."
But the births of twin male North American river otter pups last month provided a surprise ending to their parents' sad love story.
They are among eight river otter pups to be born at the zoo over a five-year span, and the fourth litter shared between Tallulah and Ozzie.
Ozzie, a longtime resident of the zoo, died unexpectedly in May, just days after he was reunited with his mate, Tallulah. They were separated so Tallulah could spend time with the twin female pups she gave birth to on Feb. 25, 2017. Male otters do not help raise their young offspring and typically rejoin the family when pups are about 3 months old.
"On May 16, we saw Ozzie not looking right. He was lethargic and we took him to the U of I (University of Illinois) veterinary school."
Ozzie died the next day. His death was caused by eating an unknown object.
"He passed it, but whatever it was, it was sharp," said Tetzloff. "We don't know where it came from."
After Ozzie passed, Tallulah focused on taking care of her girls.
"We might see depression in some animals, but we didn't see any (depression) issues with her," added Tetzloff.
In January, zoo officials started to suspect Tallulah might be pregnant again. Her pregnancy went undetected until then because most embryonic development for river otters typically is during the last 50 to 61 days of the 9½- to 12½-month gestation period.
A donated ultrasound machine and a volunteer technician from the Fort Jesse Imaging Center in Normal confirmed she was carrying at least two pups, which were born about 8 p.m. Feb. 12.
Tallulah was separated from her 1-year-old twin daughters, and a nesting box was set up for her and the newborns.
The pups and mother will be able to be viewed via a video monitor, beginning Tuesday. Mom and pups will go on exhibit in late March or early April, but that depends on their development and the weather, said Tetzloff.
Miller Park is among four zoos in North America that have had litters of river otters born so far this year. Otters rarely reproduce in zoos and aquariums, "so it's quite an accomplishment to have river otter pups," said Tetzloff.
The older female twin river otter pups will be sent to other zoos as part of a breeding program through the nonprofit Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Program.
Miller Park Zoo is getting a new breeding male river otter from Dayton, Ohio.
"We may be doing something that no one has done with river otters and that is introduce a new male to a female with pups that are not his," said Tetzloff. "It's a learning opportunity for us and the breeding program."
River otters had been considered an endangered species because they were killed for their waterproof fur that was used to make gloves and hats.
By 1989, biologists estimated there were fewer than 100 river otters left in Illinois, and the river otter was added to the state endangered species list so they couldn't be hunted. River otter populations slowly increased, and in 1999 they were upgraded to a state threatened species.
Snow leopards, native to Central Asia, and Tammar wallabies, which are knee-high relatives of kangaroos native to Australia, are among three species survival plans that Miller Park Zoo manages across 110 AZA-accredited institutions.
The zoo also is in the process of importing a male Pallas' cat from the Czech Republic, but in the meantime the Cincinnati Zoo will be assisting with the artificial insemination of the zoo's female Pallas' cat later this month.