An Incredible Journey to Save a Species a Hemisphere Away 

Giant River Otter from L.A. Zoo heads to Argentina To Help Bring the Species Back to an Historic Part of its Native Range

Giant River Otter swimming

Los Angeles, CA (May 29, 2024)—Today is World Otter Day, and the Los Angeles Zoo is celebrating by proudly announcing that eight-year-old female giant otter, Rosario, moved from the Zoo to Argentina to join a breeding program designed to reintroduce this species in a region where it has gone extinct. This partnership and reintroduction program led by Rewilding Argentina, the Government of Corrientes, and Argentina’s National Parks Administration, marks the first time a giant otter from an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoo is being sent to directly contribute to their conservation efforts.  

Through a partnership with Rewilding Argentina, the L.A. Zoo is supporting efforts to reestablish otter populations in the Iberá Wetlands. Rosario and her male partner, a giant otter from a European zoo, are the third breeding pair in this program. Their offspring will be candidates for release into the wild in Iberá National Park.

“Reintroduction programs, such as Rewilding Argentina’s, are valuable because they can revive extinct populations within historic habitat,” said Candace Sclimenti, Curator of Mammals, Los Angeles Zoo, and AZA’s giant otter program leader. “The L.A. Zoo has a long history of providing care, wellbeing, and husbandry for giant otters, and I am excited that Rosario is helping to ensure the return of her species to Argentina.”

Two animal care experts from the L.A. Zoo flew with Rosario to Argentina to ensure she had safe transport. Rosario is currently in a mandatory quarantine period to ensure the health and safety of the other otters in the program. Once quarantine is complete, she will be transported to a species-specific, pre-release corral on the shores of the Paraná Lagoon, on San Alonso Island in Iberá National Park. The corral occupies a forest area with plant cover and an aquatic area. The reintroduction of the giant otter, an apex predator, will help rebalance the ecosystem on both water and land.

“This project marks many firsts,” said Sebastián Di Martino, Conservation Director, Rewilding Argentina. “It’s the first time in history that humans are reintroducing the giant otter and the first time an extinct mammal is being reintroduced in Argentina. Further, Rosario, the giant otter, is the first animal from the United States that we are incorporating into a reintroduction project led by Rewilding Argentina. International cooperation is crucial to carry out such an ambitious project. Thus, the L.A. Zoo’s involvement in this initiative is genuinely thrilling.”

The reintroduction of a species is a complex process involving many collaborators, agencies, partnerships, and animal care experts. The process is heavily vetted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The L.A. Zoo’s Director of Conservation, Dr. Jake Owens, is on the Conservation Translocation Specialist Group for IUCN and traveled to Argentina to ensure the reintroduction site met all the requirements.

“We have an obligation to the animals taking part in a reintroduction program to make sure they’re contributing to a project that has a high likelihood of success,” Dr. Owens explains, “and this one certainly does.”

Rewilding Argentina started the giant otter reintroduction process with otters from European zoos. The project has two breeding pairs, with one pair producing three pups and the other producing a litter of four pups. However, to ensure a genetically healthy and diverse population, giant otters from different gene pools are needed. Candace Sclimenti manages the population of all giant otters within the AZA in North America, matching otters that would make healthy and genetically diverse pups.

Angelenos can view giant otters at the Los Angeles Zoo at the giant otter habitat located at the Rainforest of the Americas.

About the Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is dedicated to providing exemplary animal care and wellbeing. As a trusted leader in local and global conservation efforts, the Los Angeles Zoo is saving wildlife and connecting Angelenos to the natural world by delivering diverse learning opportunities and creating unforgettable experiences. The lush 133-acre campus and its passionate and dedicated team welcomes all to be inspired by the Zoo’s vision to create a just and sustainable world where people and wildlife thrive, together. The Zoo is located on Zoo Drive in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $22 for adults and $17 for children ages 2 to 12. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo website at www.lazoo.org.

About Rewilding Argentina
Rewilding Argentina is a foundation created to confront and reverse the crisis of species extinction and the resulting environmental degradation, to restore the healthy functioning of ecosystems, and to promote the well-being of local communities. Formed in 2010 by Argentinian conservationists and activists, Rewilding Argentina is an heir to the legacy of Tompkins Conservation. We are continuing to carry out their work and vision, collaborating with national and provincial governments, with conservation and social organizations, both national and international, and with Argentinian and foreign philanthropists. Learn more at rewildingargentina.org.