With the ability to stay submerged underwater for up to eight minutes, river otters are uniquely adapted to aquatic habitats throughout most of North America.
On Wednesday, May 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. we'll be celebrating World Otter Day at the Zoo! Two North American river otters call Lee Richardson Zoo home. The female is named Ariel, and her mate is called Liwanu. The pair's habitat is in Kansas Waters, an area of the zoo located between the alpaca habitat and Cat Canyon.
During the event, you'll be able to learn more about the otters from our Animal Care Staff during a Keeper Chat. Keeper Chats are a unique opportunity for zoo guests to ask questions and talk with zoo keepers who provide daily care for our animal residents at LRZ.
Another opportunity available during the event will be an otter-themed Discovery Cart. Discovery Carts are led by zoo education staff or trained docents and feature a variety of tangible biofacts and information. Biofacts are natural items that have been preserved, such as pelts and bones. Guests will be able to learn how otter fur feels by touching a real otter pelt and gain information about the special guard hairs that help repel water from the otter's fur.
The otters also will be provided with special enrichment. When offering enrichment, keepers usually add something to the environment that encourages natural behaviors, helping to keep zoo residents mentally and physically active. Enrichment can be as simple as a new scent sprayed on a log or as complex as a new climbing structure.
When guests view animals interacting with enrichment, they can gain a better understanding of how the animals act in the wild. Will it encourage the otters to dive deep into their water tank to remove a tasty treat on the bottom? Maybe the enrichment will be something that the otters can chew on with their teeth that are made to grind and crush? The options are limitless, come to our World Otter Day celebration to see which one the zoo keepers will choose!
North American river otters can seal their nostrils shut while swimming, and a special eyelid, or nictitating membrane, protects the otter's eye while still allowing them to still see underwater. Almost half of the otter's body is made up of their tail. The tails are very muscular and help the otter move in fast water.
The otters propel through water with their strong hind feet while their smaller, webbed, front feet aid in paddling. An adult river otter can weigh up to 33 pounds and reach up to 5 feet in length. As carnivores, much of their time underwater is spent hunting for fish, which is their primary diet. Highly sensitive facial whiskers help the otters to locate and capture prey using their mouths, even in murky water.
Otters are part of the Mustelid family of animals, which includes badgers, ferrets and weasels. There are 13 species of otter around the world, and many of them are endangered. Otters have a low tolerance for polluted water and are considered an indicator species, as their birth rates drop in areas of high pollution levels. Their population numbers are reflective of the quality of their aquatic habitats.
An easy way to help otters today is to refrain from littering. Take it a step further by picking up trash you may come across when spending time outdoors. Removal of pollutants and trash from the outdoors directly impacts our native species, as well as preventing contaminants from reaching waterways.
The International Otter Survival Fund began World Otter Day to help bring awareness to otters and the important roles they play in our environment. The day originated 10 years ago and has been celebrated annually around the world since. Join us for a splashing good time on Wednesday, May 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for our celebration of World Otter Day! For more information, call us at 620-276-1250 or visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.
Emily Sexson is the conservation education manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.