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Orphaned River Otters Go Free


Watch our video of two River Otters released to make a new home for themselves in the wild! Then read more of their story below.
Orphaned River Otter. Photo by Melanie Piazza
Photo by Melanie Piazza
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help wildcare meet a $20,000 challenge grant from our Board of Directors!

WildCare helps thousands of baby animals go from nursing newborns to healthy adults, and each one needs not just medical care and fostering, but also to learn the skills she'll need to survive in the wild.

To date WildCare's Board of Directors has pledged $5,500 to the fund, but we must meet our $20,000 goal to receive that amount!

Your donation and this match will help us ensure that all our patients have the best chance at survival in the wild!

To receive this matching grant we must raise $20,000 in donations by the end of December. You can help us meet our goal! 

Please donate today! 

spacer2.gif Baby River Otter at WildCare. Photo by Melanie Piezza
  The orphaned baby otter when she was first admitted to WildCare. Photo by Melanie Piazza
  Orphaned River Otters at play. Photo by Alison Hermance
  Our otter pair on the first day they met. Photo by Melanie Piazza
  Otter in carrier on release day. Photo by Alison Hermance
  The otters are not happy about transportation to the release site. Photo by Melanie Piazza
  Transferring to the beach
  Being transported to shore. Photo by Melanie Piazza
  The carrier door opens and otters are free!
  Doris Duncan of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue opens the cage door. Photo by Melanie Piazza
  Otter swimming into the sunset
  Our otters swam happily into the sunset and we wish them luck! Photo by Melanie Piazza

orphaned river otters

A few months ago we introduced you to a baby River Otter who, found drowning in Corte Madera Creek, was admitted to WildCare.

After being in intensive care in WildCare's hospital for several days, she was transferred to another center that had a specialized facility for otters. Unfortunately neither they nor we admitted another River Otter all summer.

It wasn't until September that she finally got a companion— another orphan admitted to Sonoma Wildlife Rescue Center (SCWR).Watch them meet for the first time in our video "A Tale of Two Otters."

In SCWR's brand-new pool, specially built for their species, these two little otters grew strong and healthy and learned the behaviors that would help them survive in the wild.

At least we hoped they learned all the skills they'd need!

Releasing a rescued baby once she's big and strong enough is the most rewarding part of WildCare's work, and we give our patients the best possible preparation for their new lives.

But like parents watching their kids go off to college, we worry— Did we teach them everything they'll need to know?

teaching survival

How do you train a baby River Otter to survive in the wild?

First your baby must be strong and healthy enough to make it in the real world, so providing the optimal diet throughout her development is the first step.

Then you have to make sure she knows what prey looks like, so a diverse selection of local fish, crustaceans and other delicacies is required.

Finally you have to ensure that she knows how to find and catch wily prey, so several weeks in a large pool chasing live crayfish and fish are necessary.

Each step of this process requires monitoring and frequent weight checks to make sure your baby remains healthy.

It's a lengthy process, and a patient must demonstrate success and healthy weight gain at each step to proceed to release.

otter release

It was on a gorgeous fall day in late November that these two once-orphaned River Otters were released to make a new home for themselves in the wild.

When we saw the young otters playing together (and especially when the little male shared his lunch with our female on their first day together), we knew they would have to be released together. This pair would need each other's support to survive their first days in the wild.

The decision was made to release them at a beautiful location on Lake Sonoma, near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. The release site provided perfect River Otter habitat-- lots of food and plenty of places to hide, romp and play.

Although we knew these little otters had received the best possible care, we still worried that they would have all the survival skills they would need in their new lives. It was with great anticipation that we watched them leave their traveling carrier and start to check out their new home. Would they know where to find wild food in the lake?

Fortunately, all our fears were unfounded. Both otters enjoyed the free lunch we provided, but the lure of the lake was much stronger. Within minutes they were swimming, diving and snacking on tidbits they found in the lake's cold waters.

As we watched, they made their way up the creek away from us. They swam off into the sunset without a backward glance— and that's exactly how a release should be!

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River Otter checking things out. Photo by Paola Bouley  
Photo by Paola Bouley  
A family group. Photo by Paola Bouley  
Photo by Paola Bouley  
River Otters at Las Gallinas. Photo by Trish Carney  
Photo by Trish Carney   trishcarney.com  

Otter Ecology

River otters are comfortable living in and around any kind of water, from lake to marsh to ocean, but they require fresh water for drinking and to rinse the salt from their thick pelts. Lontra canadensis eats all sorts of fish, crabs, shellfish, crayfish, water birds and the occasional bush-full of berries! We find fish scales, crab shells, small bones, feathers and crayfish leavings in their scat in Marin.

Otters are water acrobats, and seem able to use water in the same way birds use air – as a fluid, three-dimensional medium for their gymnastic antics. They’re well known to enjoy playing, even as adults, and will slide down sand dunes, snow slides, and across ice with every appearance of doing it just for fun. Perhaps that’s a big part of the reason humans enjoy seeing them so much; most wildlife adults appear too intent on the business of foraging, caring for young and seeking refuge to spend much time playing.

Otters are shy of humans. They have a remarkably keen sense of smell and good eyesight and hearing. When they see or hear us, they disappear into the water, and are able to swim underwater for minutes before coming up for air.

Otter mothers are extremely secretive about their natal dens, and do not defecate anywhere near them, though groups of otters sharing den areas will “spraint” (otter scat) all around them. Mothers keep their infant otters safe in the natal den until they’re old enough to learn to swim. Surprisingly, neither swimming nor catching fish is instinctive with baby otters.

Learn more about otters and the River Otter Ecology Project in our April 2012 eNews.

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Baby Western Gray Squirrel spacer2.gif
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In the Wildlife Hospital

At WildCare, a River Otter is an unusual patient, but an orphaned baby brought cold and shivering to our Wildlife Hospital is a common occurrence. Squirrels, rabbits, ducklings, songbirds — every year we treat hundreds of wild orphans and our dedicated care gives them a second chance at life in the wild.

You can help! Your generous donation now will ensure that WildCare's doors are always open to help these neediest of patients!


Baby squirrel. Photo by Alison Hermance
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