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Social river otters are Animals of the Month

By Heather Graves

SUAMICO – There are plenty of cute animals in the world, but take a look at this fuzzy face – he just might have the title.

Meet Skokie, a 9-year-old river otter that calls the NEW Zoo home.

Otters are known for being fun-loving, social animals even as adults. Skokie’s youthful energy makes his exhibit quite a popular stop for zoo goers.

“He likes to show off,” said zookeeper Lindsay Haen. “He’s quite the character. Skokie is a good-natured otter.”
Skokie, shares his habitat – nestled between the North American Plains and the Wisconsin Trails exhibits – with his four offspring.

This otter family are the Animals of the Month.

The four, yet-to-be named, pups were born in the exhibit on March 8. There are three females and one male.

“They behave just like siblings,” Haen said. “They get along well and will even yelp out if they are separated.”

Sadly, the pups’ mother passed away within the last month following complications from an illness.

Visitors to the zoo will often see the otters sliding in and out of the water, wrestling and chasing each other.

Although frolicsome by nature, river otters are generally solitary animals, with the exception of females with their young.

Male otters are generally not involved in the rearing of otter pups.

“Although they share an enclosure, Skokie and the otter pups have never actually come face-to-face with each other,” Haen said. “He pretty much ignores them.”

The pups are currently four months old and have been eating solid food for about two months.

The otters’ menu at the zoo includes caplin (fish), a meat mixture that includes vitamins and minerals and when they are older, veggies such as carrots and lettuce.

The otters are fed three times a day to keep up with their fast metabolism.

“Skokie loves romaine lettuce,” Haen said. “When it’s really hot out we will give them fish-sicles.”

Aided by their webbed feet, rudder-like tail and thick waterproof fur, otters are excellent swimmers.

Otters can remain underwater for up to 8 minutes and dive up to 60 feet – thanks to their ability to close their nostrils and ears.

“Otters also have a third eyelid that protects their eyes while they look around underwater,” Haen said.

Otters even use their whiskers to help them detect prey in dark or cloudy water.

While otters are natural swimmers, their mother must first coax them into the water.

“Mothers give their pups essentially swimming lessons,” Haen said. “The mothers take them into the water one at a time to teach them how to swim. It’s terrifying for us zookeepers.”

Skokie came to the zoo from Pennsylvania in 2011.

It is likely that he’ll live out his life here, Haen said.

The average lifespan for river otters in captivity is early 20s.

“In the wild it is much shorter, around 10 or 11 years,” Haen said.

The future of where the pups will end up is still unknown, but Haen said it is likely they will transfer to other zoos around the country.

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