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CROW still caring for four river otters

By Staff | Aug 30, 2017

A river otter guarding its fish. PHOTO PROVIDED

Four of the six otters that have called CROW home since the beginning of the year are doing well – practicing catching live prey and enjoying enrichment activities.

For CROW, caring for the otters is an expensive endeavor. CROW Hospital Director Dr. Heather Barron said on average the otters spend eight to nine months with CROW, depending on how old they were when they first arrived.

“They eat a ton of fish every day. It is very expensive, but they get the best possible care. With wildlife medicine it is always about resource allocation. We allocate a lot of resources to our river otters,” she said.

CROW is one of the few rehabilitation centers that has the proper facilities for otters, offering the appropriate level of veterinarian care, as well as being knowledgeable about the pathogens that can be problems for otters.

CROW began with six north American river otters, with the first one arriving in February. The otters came from such distances as Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater.

“All these cute little videos coming across the newswires, or Facebook feed . . . people playing with these cute little river otters and making pets out of these river otters . . . no, no, bad idea. Not only are there a lot of diseases that otters carry that people can get, but river otters are meant to be wild and they should live in the wild. The only place that would not be the case is in an appropriate accredited zoological facility,” Barron said.

The otters are tested for lung worms and heartworm disease, which both came back negative. They continue to be tested. Barron said the otters are on preventative care for heartworm disease.

In addition, the otters have also been tested for the guinea worm, a huge worm that lives under the skin of people and other animals.

“They can cause these nasty huge lumps and are a huge problem in Africa,” she said. “It’s one of the things the Carter Foundation . . . it was their main mission and goal, to completely obliterate the guinea worm from the face of the earth, so people wouldn’t suffer from it anymore.”

Barron said these long worms are taken out through making a small incision and then rolling out the worm, a little at a time over a months period of time.

“Otters get that, too. We have seen that in otters before. In fact in one study, 88 percent of otters sampled in Ontario, Canada, were positive. One individual, they found 63 worms. These worms are huge, they are like a foot long. They can really be a problem,” Barron said. “We have dewormed these guys and we have stayed on top of it and have monitored them very closely.”

All of the otters have also been vaccinated for all diseases they can carry, such as distemper and rabies.

With a clean bill of health, and signs of good live prey catching, two otters were released at “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on July 27.

“They were nice and fat and they were starting to get just a little bit naughty,” she said laughing.

The remaining four are a little bit smaller, or have not shown enough skill with their prey catching.

“In the wild they would stay with their parent for nine, or 10 months. Some of these guys are only about eight months, seven months in,” Barron said. “They still got another month or so that we wouldn’t be worried that they are not catching live prey yet.”

The hope is to return the otters to the location in which they came from after they reach an age of maturity.

“These four, we will have to see how they are doing and that will help us make a decision of where we think, and how we think, is the best way to release them,” Barron said.

They are practicing catching such live prey as crabs, fish and crayfish.

“They love it. Anything that is live they go banana nuts for,” Barron said.

The four remaining otters have two options for being released – a soft, or hard release. The hard release, Barron said, is releasing them and leaving.

“If they are hunting really, really well, I think that would be a great option as long as we take them somewhere there is a lot of prey and there are not a lot of other otters that might feel like their territory is being impinged upon,” Barron said.

The soft release would offer shelter and food to the otters while they gradually make their decision if they want to stay, or go.

Barron said they have had individual otters that never caught on to catching live prey.

“One of those had to go and live in a zoo because it never figured out how to do the live prey thing,” she said.

Barron said they have three facilities waiting for river otters if CROW staff does not think a hard, or soft release would be appropriate.

“We do have highly respected, amazing educational institutions all over the country that are waiting for otters. But, our first job is always try to get them back into the wild,” she said.

Although CROW receives orphaned otters, on occasion, Barron said, some adults have been admitted after being hit by a car, or attacked by a predator.