Oscar and Harriet, North American River Otters

June 28, 2024

Two elderly North American river otters have become Lincoln Park Zoo’s newest residents! Oscar is an 18-year-old male who arrived from Saint Louis Zoo, while Harriet is a 17-year-old female from ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

Harriet and Oscar’s arrival is a result of dedicated collaboration by institutions that are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The veterinary teams at Saint Louis Zoo, ZooTampa, and Lincoln Park Zoo worked together to create a care plan for these older animals, ensuring that they are in the best place for optimal wellbeing during this geriatric phase of their lives.

The median life expectancy for this otter species within zoos and aquariums is 12.3 years. As geriatric animals, the zoo has modified the otter habitat to better accommodate their needs. This includes adding transition ramps to different parts of their space so the pair can move around more easily, fixing a live fish-feeding system for enrichment purposes, and creating additional structures to assist with training. Training is especially important, as this facilitates the voluntary medical procedures that they will need as they age.

north american river otter

North American river otters are semiaquatic animals well adapted for life in the water. To start with, they can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes. They also have short and powerful limbs for swimming and two coats of fur—a dense underlayer covered with long and waterproof guard hairs. These otters live in burrows along permanent water sources, such as streams, swamps, and lakes. River otters are considered a keystone species, as their presence is a sign that an area has high water quality. Once endangered in Illinois, they are now thriving around the state.

Both Oscar and Harriet have completed the quarantine process and are now settled into their new habitat. They will be companions for the rest of their lives here at Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo. Come by and welcome them to Chicago!

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