• Stephanie O’Hanley

Otters’ return to Ecomuseum a happy happenstance


PHOTO BY VICTORIA DeMARTIGNY

Three lucky otters will occupy the new 6000 square-foot enclosure at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue’s Ecomuseum Zoo.

For Executive Director David Rodrigue a return of river otters to the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Ecomuseum Zoo is “very significant.” Especially since the zoo hasn’t had the aquatic mammals for over two years.

“We haven’t had otters under our care since 2014 when the previous ones passed away, at a very, very old age,” Rodrigue said. “In this case it was just a really happy happening.”

Even before three new otters arrived from Louisiana in November, the Ecomuseum was building a new $1.4 million River Otter habitat, the most important project in its history.

“We actually started building a new habitat for otters before we even knew we would be welcoming some,” he said. “We also knew if we did welcome new otters at some point it would be in a habitat like that.”

The new River Otter habitat, which mimics beautiful Quebec shorelines, took a year to build and was only completed two weeks ago. At 6000 square feet, it’s at least seven times larger than the Ecomuseum’s previous River Otter habitat. Its 250,000 litre water basin is 55 times bigger than the previous habitat’s basin.

Three observation decks include two underwater observation points where people can view the otters’ impressive aquatic abilities. A tunnel designed especially for young children gives smaller folks a place to watch the otters from an underwater vantage point. A 1056 square foot care facility annexed to the habitat makes it easy for the Ecomuseum’s animal care team to offer top quality care.

“Basically 100 per cent of this was financed through private donations,” Rodrigue said. “We have an ongoing campaign right now, over five years, which is finishing this year. Our objective was $7 million. At this point we’ve raised a little over $5 million, which is a fantastic message from the community. This is a lot of people saying we think what you do is important enough to support it.”

The new habitat was the very reason the Ecomuseum is welcoming the new otters, which were rescued from a dire situation, he explained. “They were part of a group of otters that were tagged as ‘nuisance or fur.’ Ours actually came with the fur tags on them. We were able to extricate them from that group and have them live a long and happy life instead of being on a coat and we’re quite happy about that.”

The approximately two-year-old otters, two males and one female, were quarantined until the habitat was ready and only began exploring their new home on January 23.

They don’t have names yet. “We’re actually going to involve the public in that,” Rodrigue said, suggesting people keep an eye out for an announcement on the Ecomuseum’s social media channels and website. “We pre-select groups of names and people choose from those groups. It’s important that certain names aren’t given to them,” he added.

Rodrigue said the otters are not used to people yet but expects that to change. “It’s normal... Otters are, by nature, very interactive and they’ll take a few weeks and then they’ll be interacting with people as well.”

After all, the Ecomuseum Zoo believes animal wellbeing is a priority that goes beyond veterinary care, Rodrigue said. “Wellbeing is everything from the daily care, diet, medical care, which means everything from being free of parasites but there’s many levels to it and ultimately just like humans, being free of stress, having their social needs catered to, whether you have social needs or not...and giving a choice to the animal and that’s a very important one here. For example, we don’t force animals to be visible. You can visit and if they don’t want to be seen, they will not be seen. We give them that opportunity and they have that choice.”

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