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Zoo Atlanta Welcomes New Female Giant Otter

Tocantins is an ambassador for one of the Amazon’s most endangered mammals.

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 is named for a state and river in Brazil, 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.”

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.

Rachel Davis
Director of Communications
404.624.2812 – office
404.309.2238 – cell

Gavin Johnson
Public Relations and Communications Specialist
404.624.5980 – office

About Zoo Atlanta
Viewed as one of the finest zoological institutions in the U.S. and a proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Zoo Atlanta has a mission to inspire value and preservation of wildlife through a unique mix of education and outdoor family experiences. From well-known native wildlife to critically endangered species on the brink of extinction, the Zoo offers memorable close encounters with more than 1,000 animals from around the world. Zoo highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, a set of twins born to Lun Lun on September 3, 2016; one of North America’s largest zoological populations of great apes; and a global center of excellence for the care and study of reptiles and amphibians. Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, featuring more than 70 species in a 111,000 square-foot complex, is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian exhibit. The Zoo’s newest experience, Treetop Trail presented by Kaiser Permanente, opened in March 2017. Up-close-and-personal animal experiences include behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters with African elephants, African lions, Aldabra giant tortoises and giant pandas. Zoo Atlanta is open year-round with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Keeper talks, interactive wildlife presentations, education programs and special events run year-round. For more information, visit

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