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Otters get an expanded home with rustic log cabin design at Detroit Zoo

Otter Habitat 1 - Jennie Miller

Maybe it’s eating on their bellies that separates them from their boorish fellow mammals and makes people like otters.

You’ll now be able to get a better look at them and their eating habits at the Detroit Zoo’s expanded and renovated Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat.

The habitat has gone from 680 to 2,500 square feet and the aquatic area has been expanded from 5,900 to 9,000 gallons of water. This more than tripling in size was made possible by a gift from the Edward Mardigian Family Foundation.

The once only indoor habitat now has a more earnest attempt to replicate the otter’s natural environment. There’s a new outdoor oasis which has a sandy beach, tall trees and a flowing stream as well as the previously existing indoor retreat, which includes a waterfall and waterslide.

Waterfall in otter habitat Photo by Jennie Miller

Waterfall in otter habitat
Photo by Jennie Miller

Visitor viewing in otter habitat Photo by Jennie Miller

Indoor visitor viewing in otter habitat
Photo by Jennie Miller

“It’s important that we provide animals with habitats that are naturalistic and expansive and that ensure they are thriving and not just surviving,” says Scott Carter, Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) chief life sciences officer. “The otters have more room to roam – and swim – and visitors have more viewing options.”

There’s a unique take on the new habitat. Natural light pours into the new rustic interior of the building, with exposed raw wood logs comprising the walls, evoking a handcrafted log cabin. Floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows provide visitors with dramatic views of the animals exploring their habitat, and underwater viewing remains for even the tiniest of guests to get nose-to-nose with these charismatic creatures.

Two decades have passed since the habitat was built in 1997. Its current residents are Sparky, 3, and his parents, Lucius, 11, and Whisker, 14, and, separate from the family, 16-year-old female, Storm.

Swimming in the otter habitat Photo by Jennie Miller

Swimming in the otter habitat
Photo by Jennie Miller

Whisker comes from Washington State where she called the area under a house home. Her mate Lucius was born at the zoo. Storm is a Michigander by birth and was rescued from the bottom of a hill along Lake Michigan with no den or family in sight.

The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) weighs 20-30 pounds, and its slender, cylindrical body reaches 2-3 feet in length. The semi-aquatic mammal sports short, dense, waterproof fur and profuse whiskers. The playful river otter is swift on land as well as in the water, though its loping trot can look somewhat ungainly compared to its graceful glide through the water.

Pollution, pesticides, and habitat destruction have reduced the otter population that was once prevalent in Canada and the United States. Parts of Canada, the Northwest, the upper Great Lakes region, New England and Atlantic and Gulf Coast states are where the animals currently call home.

Everyone’s mother tell them good table manners can take you places, and it seems for otters their belly table manners may have gotten them a renovated, swanky new place to live.

– Lead picture by Jennie Miller

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