Three N.C. Agencies Partner to Save Orphaned Otters - North Carolina Zoo, North Carolina Aquarium an
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Three N.C. Agencies Partner to Save Orphaned Otters - North Carolina Zoo, North Carolina Aquarium an

Posted on 06/05/18

ASHEBORO, NC  – Two North American river otter pups orphaned after their mother was hit by a car are recovering as state agencies help rehabilitate them before reintroducing them to the wild. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and North Carolina Zoo partnered to help ensure the best possible outcome for the young otters.

The pups – approximately six weeks old – are currently in the care of the North Carolina Zoo’s Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehab Center, where they will continue to be treated and evaluated for several months. Their journey to the Zoo in Asheboro followed valuable input and cooperation among the participating agencies to help ensure their well-being. 

They were deemed to be ideal candidates for rehabilitation and release because the pups were recently recovered without excessive human contact. In this case, reintroducing them to the wild is the best course of action for the animals.

Over the coming months in the Zoo’s care, the otters will transition from formula to solid food and catching fish on their own. Their final stages of care will be in a safe, outdoor, aquatic enclosure where they can prepare for their return to the wild.

Once ready, the Zoo will coordinate their release with the aquarium and the NCWRC. They are expected to be released back into the wild in late summer or early fall.

“This is such a great example of how state agencies can work together to achieve wonderful results,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources. “I am so proud of our zoo and aquarium staffs and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for all they do every single day to nurture and protect not only the animals under their care but also the wild creatures that need their help, from injured sea turtles to these orphaned otters. We are lucky to have such dedicated and caring people working for North Carolina.”


How the Otters were Found

On April 23, the NCWRC was contacted by a member of the public who had observed the orphaned otters near Engelhard, N.C. After recovering the pups, the NCWRC contacted Kristin Clark, assistant husbandry curator at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, and transported the otters to the aquarium.

Clark immediately began an initial assessment to determine the otters’ health and their likelihood of reintroduction to the wild. “My priorities were to make sure they were healthy and to determine that they were not conditioned to human interaction,” Clark said. When animals become accustomed to human interaction, they may overly develop a reliance on people for food and other resources.

On April 24, the otters were transported to the Zoo, which has successfully rehabilitated and released otters back into the wild before in conjunction with the NCWRC.

Dr. Jb Minter, the Zoo’s Chief Veterinarian, determined they were in good body condition with no obvious signs of injury or illness.

“We are caring for them as hands-off as possible -  we want to be respectful of their wild nature, ensuring natural behaviors are maintained for a successful release,” said Dr. Minter.

Clark described the partnership as a model for bringing about a positive outcome for wild animals.

“We are thankful to be part of such a successful collaboration,” she said.

North American river otters had almost disappeared by the early 20th century because of unregulated trapping, water pollution and wetlands destruction. In the 1990s, the NCWRC began a restoration effort in the mountains with 267 river otters relocated from coastal North Carolina. Thanks to this program, the otter population is now considered fully restored and abundant throughout North Carolina.


Curious, playful and excellent swimmers, otters are on average 3 to 4 feet long and weigh between 12 to 23 pounds.  The nocturnal, aquatic predators are important to the ecosystem because they reduce undesirable fish populations that compete for food with cold-water game fish. Easily adaptable to living in warm, coastal marshes to cold mountain streams, they are active in the wild year-round.

To follow the progress of the otter pups, please follow the North Carolina Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



About the North Carolina Zoo

At the North Carolina Zoo, we celebrate nature. As the world’s largest natural habitat Zoo, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about animals for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit our Zoo each year. Our dedicated team of experts provides exceptional, compassionate care for the more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants that call our Park home. We also lead efforts locally and globally to protect wildlife and wild places because we believe nature’s diversity is critical for our collective future. The North Carolina Zoo invites all of our guests to witness the majesty of the wild in the heart of North Carolina and welcomes everyone to join in our mission to protect nature’s diversity. Visit to begin your life-changing journey.


About the N.C. Aquarium

The N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is dedicated to the mission of “Inspiring appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments.” The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Info at


About the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

Since 1947, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been dedicated to the conservation and sustainability of the state’s fish and wildlife resources through research, scientific management, wise use and public input. The Commission is the state regulatory agency responsible for the enforcement of fishing, hunting, trapping and boating laws and provides programs and opportunities for wildlife-related educational, recreational and sporting activities. Get N.C. Wildlife Update — news including season dates, bag limits, legislative updates and more — delivered free to your Inbox from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.


About the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR’s mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.


NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call 919- 807-7300 or visit


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