By Josh Wayner
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- I’ve been a gun writer for quite some time now and in that time I’ve got to meet some fascinating people and see things most people never get to. Since AmmoLand News does a fair amount of conservation pieces in addition to gun-related articles, I decided to take some requests as to a wildlife conservation project topics. Sure enough, the massive popularity of the American River Otter won out hands down.
Since I’m a proud Michigander, I decided to do my best to discover not only the status of the American River Otter in Michigan, but to get up close and personal with the otters and reveal the efforts being taken to ensure the future of this intelligent predator.
To accomplish my mission, I contacted both the Michigan DNR and the fine folks at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI. I was pleased with the enthusiasm of both my state officials and the caretakers at the zoo.
American River Otter
Otters of all forms have risen to the top of the pack in internet popularity in recent years, surpassing many other domesticated animals in terms of following and interest. The thing about otters is that, unlike cats and dogs, they are wild animals and should not be kept as pets and are elusive in nature. This limited public access has resulted in increased interest on social media and has raised questions on the status of the animals in the wild.
According to the Michigan DNR’s Furbearer Specialist Adam Bump:
“Otters are a native Michigan species that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages to maintain sustainable populations and to provide recreational opportunities such as wildlife viewing and trapping. There is a trapping season in the entire state of Michigan for licensed trappers. Most of our otters are found in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula although low densities of otters are found in the Southern Lower Peninsula as well. Although it is difficult to generate population estimates for furbearers, such as otters, we do monitor trends in populations. Otter populations appear to be stable or increasing throughout the state, especially in the southern portions of the state.”
“However, even where otter populations are fairly high, it can be a rare event to get to see otters our on a river system or in a lake.”
In researching this piece I came to hear several accounts of wild otters in the southern portion of the state, including along the Grand River, which snakes through the city of Grand Rapids, famous as Beer City USA and the location of two very special otters who call the John Ball Zoo home.
The John Ball Zoo has a fantastic program for learning about these impressive animals and leads the pack in not only public education of humans in regard to wildlife, but are also ahead of the curve in animal training.
The otters in question come in the form of ten-year-old female Chewmani and five-year-old male Slyde. These two animals were born and raised in an educational environment and take part in many programs designed to display the enormous mental capacity of the species in addition to providing entertainment for thousands of guests to their home.
Seeing the animals up close gave me a great appreciation for their natural ability to adapt and survive. The American River Otter is not only capable of using tools to hunt and eat, but can actively identify the differences between toys and utensils.
Slyde was the very first animal to take part in a unique type of training that allows him to undergo stress-free medical examinations and was the first animal there to be trained to receive hand injections by a caretaker. The high intelligence of the animals allows them to be easily adapted to these types of training and procedures.
Tessa, John Ball Zoo’s Animal Care Supervisor, showed me how the animals are trained up-close by demonstrating what is called target-training. The otters are trained to respond to their caretaker and this allows the visual inspection of the animal to ensure that it is not externally injured or otherwise damaged.
The adaptability and natural curiosity of the otter is what has also led to dangers to their population. It is through understanding the species and their unique abilities at leading institutions like John Ball that we are able to identify risk factors that threaten the wild population.
Otters are at an increased risk in polluted lakes and streams that other animals often abandon. Since they are smart and adaptable, the animals often endanger themselves by occupying areas that are hazardous to their individual or reproductive health.
The best thing to do to help preserve and increase the range of this wonderful animal is to reduce waste and man-made environmental factors that cause population instability.
My venture into the world of Michigan’s River Otters proved that the conservation and educational projects surrounding these animals are effective and have resulted in not only a heightened public awareness of the animals but in a stable and growing population.
About Josh Wayner:
Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.