The biennial event welcomes keepers on the frontlines of otter care
If a group of otters is called a bevy, what do you call a group of otter keepers? The Oregon Zoo is about to find out, as it hosts the eighth biennial Otter Keeper Workshop Oct. 15-19.
For five days, otter care staff from around the world will gather at the zoo to discuss all things otter, from environmental enrichment to conservation to veterinary care. Attendees will also get a close-up experience of the Oregon Zoo, including the chance to observe several animal training sessions in action.
"This is a great opportunity to share knowledge with the best otter keepers in the world," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America area. "We're looking forward to hosting the group here and introducing them to our otters."
Intended for frontline keepers and organized by a small group of Oregon Zoo keepers and staff, this workshop will be devoted to the five species that reside in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums: African spotted-necked otters, Asian small-clawed otters, giant otters, North American river otters and sea otters.
The Oregon Zoo is home to two otter species: Sea otters Eddie, Juno and Lincoln live in the Pacific Shores area of the zoo, and North American river otters Tilly and B.C. live in the Great Northwest. Workshop attendees will have the opportunity to meet all five otters, as well as their devoted care staff.
"Otters are truly amazing animals," said keeper Renée Larison. "They're vital to stable lakes, rivers and oceans — their presence in their native habitat indicates that ecosystem is healthy."
With otters' important role as an indicator species in mind, the workshop will have a special focus on conservation efforts. Otter keepers encounter millions of guests visiting zoos and aquariums each year, and they have the chance to educate and inspire them to help otters in the wild.
Otters are known for their curiosity and intelligence, and of course their sense of fun, which Christie and Larison hope will set the tone for the week's activities.
"If you have ever been lucky enough to observe an otter in person," Christie said, "you will never forget its playfulness and mustached face!"
Sea otters are considered a keystone species and a play critical role in the Pacific Coast marine ecosystem, promoting healthy kelp forests, which in turn support thousands of organisms. Though currently protected from hunting by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, sea otters continue to be threatened by oil spills, fishing nets and diseases.
Once threatened by fur trappers, North American river otters are now considered rare throughout most of the U.S. due to habitat destruction and water pollution. They are relatively abundant in healthy river systems of the Pacific Northwest though, and are frequently observed in local waterways.
The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.