How's this for otterly adorable?
The National Zoo recently gave a band of Asian small-clawed river otters an electric keyboard to muck around with, and clearly someone needs to get these guys a record deal:
So, besides ridiculous cuteness, what's going on here?
"The keyboard session is one among many activities that fall under animal enrichment -- a program that provides physically and mentally stimulating activities and environments for the zoo’s residents," zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Zoon tells HuffPost. "The animals have the opportunity not only to choose how to behave, but also to use their natural abilities and behaviors in new and exciting ways."
Zoon says that all the zoo's animals have some form of enrichment every day. They get social interaction (between themselves and their keepers), food is hidden around their enclosures and they are also given "novel objects" like balls, bobbins, artistic and musical implements and things to climb on.
To keep those objects novel and enriching, the small-clawed otters -- which scientists consider to be a "vulnerable" group of animals, threatened by habitat loss -- get their keyboards about twice a month. More often and they might get bored.
"I wouldn’t go so far as to say certain ones have a musical affinity because what may be interesting to them one day may not interest them the next," says Zoon. "Otters are generally inquisitive about enrichment, including new loud toys."
We tried, but couldn't stop ourselves from wondering if there was any downside to this sweet music. Jonathan Balcombe, director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells HuffPost that the video is "fun to watch," but also raises one or two animal welfare concerns.
"Enrichments are good and the energetic response of these otters to the keyboard indicates to me how hungry they are for stimulation," he says. "Providing stimulation is critical for a decent quality of life for captive animals. Sadly, too few zoos make an effort. It’s the least we can do for creatures who are essentially imprisoned in settings that can only provide an incomplete replica of their natural existence."
Instead of giving them a breakable keyboard that has to be kept outside their cage, Balcombe wonders, "wouldn’t it be nice if someone developed electronic interactive devices tailored for captive species and designed for the rigors of such use?"
If you're in D.C. this Saturday, go and ask this and other questions about otters and keyboards, and so much more, to the zookeepers themselves -- May 31 is enrichment day at the National Zoo!
And to show that the National Zoo's animals aren't the only keyboard-loving otters around -- American Idol-Otter, anyone? -- here's another video for your further, and great, enjoyment:
Though some otters prefer hoops:
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