River Otters Move to Renovated Habitat at Detroit Zoo


The Detroit Zoo today announced that the North American river otters are moving into a newly-renovated and expanded habitat. Following a gift from the Edward Mardigian Family Foundation, the habitat was increased to 2,500 square feet of space from 680 square feet, highlighted by new indoor and outdoor elements.

“It’s important that we provide animals with habitats that are naturalistic and expansive and that ensure they are thriving and not just surviving,” says Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “The otters have more room to roam — and swim — and visitors have more viewing options.”

The otters’ new aquatic area has also been expanded to 9,000 gallons of water from 5,900 gallons, and includes an outdoor oasis complete with a sandy beach, trees, and a flowing stream. The indoor environment offers a waterfall and a waterslide. The habitat also features a rustic interior, exposed raw wood logs, and floor-to-ceiling windows to increase guests’ viewing capabilities.

Built in 1997, the Edward Mardigan Sr. River Otter Habitat is home to several otters, including three-year-old Sparky, his parents Lucius and Whisker, and 16-year-old female Storm.

Once abundant in U.S. and Canadian rivers, the semi-aquatic animals have seen significant population declines due to fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides, and other threats. Otters can currently be found in parts of Canada, the upper Great Lakes region, New England, and the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.

The Detroit Zoo features 125 acres of naturalistic habitats, which are home to more than 2,000 animals representing 245 species. It has an annual regional economic impact of more than $100 million and sees more than 1.6 million visitors annually.