Tilly and the pups: Orphaned otters meet for the first time

July 24, 2019 - 1:53pm

Rescued pups Flora and Hobson are having fun with adult river otter Tilly

Rascally pups Flora and Hobson have a new river otter role model. Tilly, the zoo's adult river otter, joined the 3-month-old orphaned pups outside in the Cascade Crest habitat for the first time this week and much happy squeaking ensued.

"The pups started following Tilly around right away," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's river otters. "It's wonderful for them to have her as a mentor. She's been showing them the ropes and the three of them are having so much fun."

Tilly is more than just a playmate for Flora and Hobson. As the ranking senior member of the family, she can show them how to be adult river otters. When the two pups chase after her during swim sessions or follow her lead at mealtime, they're also learning important life lessons.

"Flora and Hobson are really lucky to live with Tilly," Christie said. "She's raised five pups of her own, including another rescue."

Though Tilly is nearly a decade older than the pups, the three of them have something in common. All came to the zoo as orphans, found wandering alone and deemed unable to survive on their own in the wild. Flora was found at a construction site near Gold Beach, and Hobson was found near a golf course in McMinnville. Tilly was orphaned near Johnson Creek in 2009. All three otters are also named for local waterways: Floras Lake, Hobson Creek and the Tillamook River.

Visitors to the zoo can catch a glimpse of Tilly and the pups playing together in the Cascade Crest habitat, located in the Great Northwest area of the 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.