The new exhibit features two viewing areas – both above ground and underwater – along with two underwater web cameras that will soon be viewable on the zoo’s website.
Although the exhibit will eventually have two North American otters, currently only Buster, the zoo’s male otter, is in his new home. A female will otter will join him in about two weeks, said Zoo CEO Joe Montisano.
The exhibit was made possible by sponsors Sean and Nina Barth who said they hoped to add the exhibit to the zoo after visiting an otter exhibit at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
“Nina and I talked about how great it would be to have a similar exhibit at our zoo, and when we heard the plans for the exhibit we jumped at the opportunity to support it,” said Sean Barth.
Sean also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the zoo.
“We believe in the mission of the zoo, and believe in the benefits that it provides the community at large,” he said. “There are a lot of dynamic and exciting things happening at the zoo and I wanted to contribute to what is currently happening and what is to come in the future.”
The Central Florida Zoo’s new otters are both 5 to 6 years-old. The male came from Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Fla. and the female from Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
River otters can be found in almost any river, lake, stream, swamp, marsh, or estuary ecosystem in North America and are equally at home in the water and on land. They make their home in a burrow featuring numerous tunnels – one of which allows them to come and go from the water.
In some areas otters may be active during the day, but generally they are nocturnal. On land, they can get around and run quite well, if not as effectively as they swim. They love to playfully slide down snow-covered, icy, or muddy hills—often ending with a splash in the water.
Central Florida Zoo’s new otters will be able to do just that with the exhibit’s waterfall and pond. Additionally, otters will have toys – such as beach balls – to play with.
Otter families of mother and children can be seen enjoying such fun, which also teaches survival skills. They find slippery rocks and slide into the water on their bellies, or they leap in with somersaults and belly flops. They often enjoy wrestling matches with each other. When they do travel on land, they alternate running with sliding on their bellies. A river otter can slide up to 20 feet at a time at speeds of 18 miles an hour, according to National Geographic.
The zoo will celebrate the grand opening of the exhibit Saturday, Sept. 1 at 10 a.m.
Director of Animal Collections Bonnie Breitbeil said, “We are very excited to bring North American river otters back to the zoo. This exhibit will be a show-piece for the Zoo and the otters should be a crowd pleaser for our guests. We hope our guests will enjoy the otters' lively antics as they swim and explore their environment.”