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Rescued river otter learns how to be an animal at Denver Aquarium

DENVER — Life’s hard when you’re an otter who thinks she’s a human.

Or, an otter who thinks humans are other otters. Employees at the Downtown Aquarium aren’t quite sure which way Olive thought. Regardless, it took a lot of patience to teach the frisky little mammal how to get along in the animal world.

Olive, initially named Oliver as Aquarium workers believed she was male, was rescued after she approached a person at a gas station in Florida. Curator of birds and mammals LynnLee Schmidt said it’s likely that she was pulled from her den or a person tried to keep her as a pet without realizing the demands of a North American river otter.

The stranded otter arrived at the Downtown Aquarium last year on March 24 — Schmidt’s birthday — when she was about 3-months old. She was too accustomed to human interaction to be released into the wild. But she also required too much care to be left at the aquarium overnight. So she went home with the birthday girl.

Although cute, otters aren’t quite like dogs. Olive ate a delicious diet of raw, smelly fish that took a spot in the fridge next to Schmidt’s husband’s sandwich. Otters also eat a lot — about 20 percent of their body weight a day. She swam in the bath tub, opting to dry off on the carpet. She communicated through small nips. And although she started out sleeping in a Great Dane-sized kennel, she eventually grew to roam the house at night, finding an especially cozy spot in Schmidt’s box spring.


 

Schmidt said her husband was unperturbed by his temporary roommate. The couple had hosted monkeys, porcupines, lemurs and other animals in the past. That’s the life in the business, she said. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a little peeved when he stepped on wet carpet while wearing socks.

Olive stayed with the Schmidts until November. She was gradually transitioned from sleeping at home to sleeping at the aquarium.

The aquarium already had two older male otters but employees knew Olive wasn’t old enough to be with them and needed to socialize with otters her own age. So they began looking for otter friends. That’s how Olivia and Emilie entered the picture.

The sisters have their own sad past. A man in Alaska was struggling with an otter attacking his dog. So he picked up the otter and moved her away. Later, he discovered that the otter was the mother of Olivia and Emilie, who were denning under his porch.

The aquarium took the sisters in. Their bones were malformed and thin — some so thin that an X-ray could barely detect them. But after giving the otters a better diet and regular physical therapy, the sisters’ bones now have proper density, although their legs will never be straight.

The sisters and Olive have taken to each other, creating a sisterhood. They get along great but have occasional sisterly spats. Regardless, they are all eager to show off their backflips whenever Schmidt is around.

You can see the flips yourself at the Downtown Aquarium. Although, sometimes the two boys are hogging the public limelight instead.

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