Our first-ever giant otters were delivered on Wednesday evening! It was quite the adventure for this pair (consisting of a five-year-old female and her three-year-old brother), who came all the way from Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
The otters’ journey started months ago when their caretakers began crate training. This technique, which is commonly practiced at zoos and aquariums around the world, involves familiarizing animals with their transportation housing to reduce the stress of a move.
The otters were secured in their crates on Tuesday night and driven to the airport and placed on a cargo plane the following morning. Los Angeles Zoo keepers Danila and Francisco rode on the plane, too, periodically checking on the animals.
After a layover in Memphis, the plane landed at Orlando International Airport around 6:30 p.m. Two of our keepers and one curator loaded the crates into a van, and the otters, Danila and Francisco finally made their way to Melbourne!
More keepers met us at the Zoo to move the otters into the behind-the-scenes area where they will be staying until their habitat is completed next week. The female was released first, and she went straight for the water and started vocalizing almost immediately. The male was slightly more reluctant to leave his crate, but he eventually joined his sister in the pool.
The otters gobbled up a meal of herring, capelin and mackerel. This was a great sign as animals may refuse to eat if they feel stressed.
Our staff gave Francisco and the otters some one-on-one time so he could assure them that they would be safe in their new home. After about 30 minutes of observation, everyone was confident that the otters were settling in and departed.
On Thursday, Danila and Francisco returned to the Zoo to offer training and husbandry guidelines, suggest tweaks to the current habitat, answer our keepers’ questions and say their final goodbyes to the otters. We are extremely grateful to them and their coworkers for helping us through this transition and entrusting us to care for these amazing creatures!
These two animals are thriving, but the situation for giant otters in their natural range of northern South America is not as rosy. They are considered endangered due to habitat loss, pollution and poaching. A simple action you can take for the rainforest is purchasing shade-grown coffee, which, unlike most coffee, is cultivated under the canopy rather than in a clear-cut field; this allows for a greater of level of biodiversity on the farm.
Though these two obviously won’t be breeding because they’re related, building a home for them helps ensure the sustainability of the Giant Otter Species Survival Plan (SSP) by freeing up space for future pups. We manage our cheetahs in a similar way, and if the SSP recommends our otters for breeding in the future, we may relocate them or bring in an unrelated individual and keep them here.
We’ll share photos of the otters when they move into Rainforest Revealed. You’ll be able them for yourself when this transformative new exhibit opens on Saturday, November 23!