Rare care: Nebraska Wildlife Rehab looking after baby river otter

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 12:15 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - For more than 20 years, Nebraska Wildlife Rehab has never had a baby otter in its care. That changed when one was found on private property a couple of weeks ago.

Nebraska Wildlife Rehab says the folks who found her did the right thing: They waited to see whether she could reunite with her parents, but she didn’t. She ended up staying in a field all night and into the next day, so they figured she was orphaned and called in the professionals.

“Otters were very uncommon in the ’90s and early 2000s throughout Nebraska,” Executive Director Laura Stastny said. “They were actually extirpated from the state but reintroduced by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in the ’80s and ’90s, and it took a few decades for the numbers to get up to a common population number.”

Now, the baby otter is living under the care of the organization whose mission is to rehabilitate native Nebraska wildlife and return them to the wild. The most common animals they see are rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and bats.

“For all of us, it’s exciting. It’s also an honor to get to rehab an animal that we don’t see very often in Nebraska.”

Stastny said it’s important not to over-habituate wildlife to humans; so right now, the staff is helping feed the baby otter, who is believed to be between 10 and 11 weeks old, and make sure she’s swimming and exercising.

Within a month, the baby girl will be in her own 500 square-foot enclosure with a 6-foot swimming pool.

“After that, we’re pretty much hands-off. We’ll feed her every day and we’ll expose her to objects and smells and foods that she’ll find in the wild and give her the opportunity in that pool to practice fishing which she’ll really need,” said Stastny.

Nebraska Wildlife Rehab is in the process right now of raising money to build the enclosure - and they’re not cheap to begin with.

“With everything happening with COVID last year and the increasing cost of lumber — this is a big enclosure and it’s lumber — so the cost has gone up exponentially since the last time we built one, which was a year and a half ago.”

And because the organization has more individual animals of different species this year, they have to build a total of four new enclosures.

“An unexpected expense, but definitely worth it to make sure our animals are being professionally rehabilitated so it’s something we need to work on,” Stastny said.

The enclosure for the baby otter should be built within the month. Nebraska Wildlife Rehab plans to release her back into the wild sometime this fall. They’re still trying to nail down a specific habitat.

“Wherever she goes well set up a pre-release cage so she’ll have time to acclimate to the site before she’s released onto the site. For most wildlife, it’s not ideal to take them out and just put them in a new habitat,” Stastny said.

With summer upon us, Stastny said more people may find wildlife in their yards, so she encourages people to visit the Nebraska Wildlife Rehab website to find out if an animal needs rescuing or if it should be left alone.

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