Orphaned river otter finds home and health at Oregon Zoo

July 7, 2015 - 1:57pm

Squeaky, spunky pup is recovering at the zoo after a rough start to life near Corvallis

A boisterous, squeaky river otter pup, orphaned last month near Cottage Grove, Ore., has just taken up residence at the Oregon Zoo.

A passing motorist spotted the young otter wandering alongside Highway 58 on June 20, and alerted a local wildlife rehabilitator who collected and cared for the animal while final placement was determined by staff at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"He is playing in his pool, eating voraciously and grooming himself — all behaviors we want to see right now."

—Julie Christie, senior keeper

The pup, just a couple of months old at the time, was alone, hungry and dehydrated, but was rescued by the Chintimini Wildlife Center in Corvallis. Since the young otter would not be able to survive in the wild without its mother, ODFW contacted the Oregon Zoo to see if it had space available once the pup's health stabilized.

Last Thursday, the tiny pup was transferred to the zoo, where he is currently in the care of veterinarians and keepers. He's estimated to be about 2 or 3 months old, and weighed a little over 4 pounds on arrival.

"He's a spunky little otter," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America section. "ODFW acted quickly when the lone pup was reported and Chintimini Wildlife Center did a terrific job nursing him back to health. He is very active in his current home. He is playing in his pool, eating voraciously and grooming himself — all behaviors we want to see right now."

Visitors won't get a look at the youngster until later this summer, when he joins the zoo's two adult otters Tilly and B.C. in their Cascade Stream and Pond habitat.

"We have a very good track record with orphaned otters," Christie said. "Our adult otters, Tilly and B.C., were also rescued animals who had a rough start to life."

Tilly, named after the Tillamook River, was found orphaned near Johnson Creek in 2009. She was about 4 months old, had been wounded by an animal attack and was seriously malnourished. Once her health had stabilized, Tilly came to the Oregon Zoo in a transfer facilitated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversees the species' protection.

B.C. (short for Buttercup), was found orphaned near Star City, Ark., also in 2009. He was initially taken in by the Little Rock Zoo, but transferred here the following year as a companion for Tilly. The two otters hit it off quickly and have produced two offspring, Molalla and Zigzag. Both are now grown and living in Seattle — Mo at the Seattle Aquarium and Ziggy at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Once threatened by fur trappers, North American river otters are now relatively abundant in healthy river systems of the Pacific Northwest and the lakes and tributaries that feed them. Good populations exist in suitable habitat in northeast and southeast Oregon, but they are scarce in heavily settled areas, especially if waterways are compromised. Because of habitat destruction and water pollution, river otters are considered rare outside the region.

Metro, the regional government that manages the Oregon Zoo, has preserved and restored more than 90 miles of river and stream banks in the region through its voter-supported natural area programs. By protecting water quality and habitat, these programs are helping to provide the healthy ecosystems needed for otters, fish and other wildlife to thrive. River otters are frequently observed in Metro region waterways.