Two orphaned river otter pups find home, health at zoo

May 28, 2019 - 1:29pm

Squeaky pups are recovering at the zoo after a rough start to life in the wild

Two boisterous, squeaky river otter pups, one female and one male, have just taken up residence at the Oregon Zoo, after being orphaned this month in different parts of the state.

The female pup was found wandering a construction site near Gold Beach. Oregon State Police took her to Wildlife Images Rehabilitation & Education Center in nearby Josephine County. Wildlife Images, a nonprofit facility, cared for the animal while final placement was determined by staff at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Since the young otter could not be reunited with her mom, and would not be able to survive in the wild without her, ODFW contacted the Oregon Zoo to see whether it had space available once the pup's health stabilized. The female is estimated to be about 6 weeks old and weighs about 3.5 pounds.

The male, who was suffering from a respiratory infection, was found near a golf course in McMinnville and was temporarily cared for at the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center near Salem. He is about 4 weeks old and weighs about 2.4 pounds.

"Our preference for them would have been rehab and release," said Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo's Great Northwest area. "However, wildlife officials said that was not possible so we're happy we could give them a second chance. We have a good track record with orphaned otters. Our adult otter, Tilly, was also rescued as a pup, and she's helped raise an orphan as well."

On Friday, both pups were transferred to the zoo, where they met each other for the first time.

"They started playing as soon as we introduced them," said zoo veterinarian Dr. Kelly Flaminio, who received the pups from ODFW on Friday evening. "The smaller pup ate like a champ, and is more interested in solid foods than formula. The female only wanted to play."

The pups are currently receiving care at the zoo's Veterinary Medical Center. Once staff have confirmed they are healthy and gaining weight, they plan to introduce them to Tilly in the zoo's Cascade Stream and Pond area. In addition to raising four offspring of her own, Tilly has also previously cared for another orphaned otter pup, Little Pudding.

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.

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.