A Little Chaos Mixed with a Little Bit of Mayhem
Fun facts about the North American river otter
- They can hold their breath underwater up to seven minutes.
- Its body ranges from 26 to 42 inches—about half of that is its tail!
- A thick, beautiful fur coat protects them from the cold and is also water-repellent. Unfortunately, their beautiful fur has made otters a target for hunters for centuries. But you can make a difference. Check out this list of fur-free retailers, designers and brands.
Sidebar photo: Chaos by Maddie Gandara. Story photos (from top): Mayhem by ABQ BioPark, Mayhem training with Maddie Gandara by ABQ BioPark, Mayhem by Maddie Gandara.
The ABQ BioPark has a little bit of Chaos and Mayhem going on.
Two of the facility’s newest residents—female otters—have been living behind the scenes at the zoo since June 2016. They will eventually inhabit the Aquarium’s North American river otter exhibit.
The otters are about 1-2 years old each. They came to the BioPark after being removed from a Louisiana shrimp farm, where the pair was caught stealing shrimp.
Maddie Gandara, ABQ BioPark Aquarium otter trainer, makes a trip to the Zoo about three times a day to train the two. She and co-trainer Ashley Baca are teaching the otters behaviors like going through tunnels, getting on and off of a surface, sticking paws out for inspection, following their trainer and standing up on their hind legs. The otters can also touch their nose to a target—Chaos touches a purple sea star and Mayhem touches a red fish.
For our visit, Mayhem had no problem performing all these behaviors for some fish—the two receive trout, smelt and capelin during their training sessions. Gandara said Mayhem is bigger and braver than Chaos, who preferred to stay hidden during our visit.
“Chaos is very shy when other people are around,” said Gandara. “Mayhem’s a pleaser, so she’ll basically do anything we ask her to do. Chaos is more cautious.”
Nonetheless, Gandara said both of them have made progress since they arrived at the BioPark. The two are more trusting and are quickly learning their new behaviors, which will assist in a proactive healthcare routine.
Gandara and Baca are trying to ready the otters for a more public life in preparation for their eventual move to the Aquarium.
“It’s basically just getting them used to the noises,” said Gandara. “We’re still working on desensitizing them, but they’re coming along.”
Chaos and Mayhem share a special bond with each other—Gandara said they often wrestle together in a children’s swimming pool that is filled with shavings. They also rub noses and share a den.
“You always catch them snuggling together in the sun,” said Gandara.
Otters are very intelligent animals—even smarter than your dog. In fact, Gandara said she has to be quick on her toes or else the otters could get the better of her.
“They’re quick. They’re smart. They remember everything,” she said. “They test their surroundings.”
Story: Tina Deines