Utica Zoo Opens New North American River Otter Exhibit
Jul. 3 2023

Utica Zoo Opens New North American River Otter Exhibit

The Utica Zoo has two new residents, Briar and Lily! They are part of the zoo’s newest addition, the Otterly Awesome North American River Otter exhibit.

At the end of 2022, the Utica Zoo began the renovations on the former Sea Lion habitat to transform it into the new exhibit. In total, the cost of the new habitat was just under $200,000 and largely funded by First Source Federal Credit Union and private donors. The impact of this new addition to the Zoo is anticipated to be significant for the overall revenue of the Zoo, as well as being a draw for tourists from around the state and country.

“The renovation of the habitat was extensive; yet with the existence of a viable life support system already in place from the sea lions, it became a reasonable project in terms of expense and time. Additionally, we were highly confident our visitors would thoroughly enjoy and benefit from learning about this species found in our own region,” Utica Zoo Executive Director, Andria Heath said.

The living space of water and land mass actually required a full reversal; while the sea lions needed a larger and deeper water area with less ‘coastal space’ the otters require more land made up of a variety of materials such as rocks, tree limbs to burrow, substrate and more. The water area is shallow yet also needed systems in place to allow staff to disinfect and ensure clarity for the visitors to view the otters while in the water. The inside holding area also required a complete renovation to create the appropriate dens and keeper area.

The North American river otter is a member of the mustelid, family that can be easily identified by a stout body, short legs, noticeably tapered tail and dense, short, glossy fur. They are semi-aquatic mammals who were once present in all major waterways in the US and Canada until at least the 19th century. Otter numbers dropped drastically in subsequent decades, due to human settlement, overharvest, and habitat destruction. Over the last few decades, Otter numbers have stabilized due in part to reintroduction efforts and wetland preservation.

The two otters are currently on exhibit for the public to meet, and visitors can find them exploring, swimming, sleeping, running, playing, and enjoying their new home in the Backyards & Barnyards area of the Utica Zoo. For more information about the otters, visit uticazoo.org/riverotter.

The Utica Zoo creates unique experiences and promotes public appreciation of wildlife through education, conservation, and recreation and is home to over 200 exotic and domestic animals, welcoming over 100,000 visitors annually. It is open daily from 10 am to 4:30 pm. For more information on this, and all things Utica Zoo, visit UticaZoo.org or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.