Do onto otters as you would have them do onto you

Popular park attraction Otto the otter dies due to unknown causes

MISSING A LOCAL FRIEND. Otto the otter was a popular attraction at Bays Mountain Park. He passed away recently, possibly due to a member of the community feeding him inappropriate food.

Bays Mountain Park

MISSING A LOCAL FRIEND. Otto the otter was a popular attraction at Bays Mountain Park. He passed away recently, possibly due to a member of the community feeding him inappropriate food.

Carlee Cradic, Staff

Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium is a local park that provides people with the chance to visit animals in their natural habitat. The park also provides other sources of outdoor entertainment, including picnic areas and hiking trails. Sometimes, human visitors can seriously disrupt the animals’ natural habitat.

An exhibit otter at Bays Mountain Park died on May 30, 2019. This male otter’s name was Otto. He and his sibling were left orphans after a flood killed their parents. Bays Mountain Park was caring for Otto with intentions of rehabilitating him and returning him to the wild.

Kenlee Gilliam, a sixth grade student, regrets never having met Otto.

“I have never been to the exhibit,” Gilliam said.

Megan Krager is the senior naturalist at Bays Mountain Park. She spends a lot of time working with the animals.

“Each and every day we work with the animals is a little bit different,” she said. “Animals are kind of like people. Some days they are feeling pretty good, and other days they don’t feel like company. For the most part, it’s a lot of fun working with the animals.”

Krager spent a lot of time working with Otto.

“When Otto first arrived he was only 10 months old and very vocal, meaning scared,” she said. “For the first little while, the caretaker who used to take care of him would sit there and try to calm him down. He would constantly cry and it would break your heart every time you had to leave him.”

Otto quickly adjusted to life in his new habitat and became a local favorite due to his warm personality. He formed a connection with the Bays Mountain employees.

“Over time, Otto and I, and another naturalist, developed a bond, and that bond then started to build a friendship,” she said. “From that friendship, we were able to see his true colors come out.”

Then, in May, Otto got sick and passed away.

“Around the same time of Otto’s death, it was reported that a park visitor had thrown food that was not a part of Otto’s daily diet into his habitat,” Krager said.

The University of Tennessee’s veterinarian school ran tests to figure out what caused Otto’s death. The tests came back inconclusive.

“Each animal has a bond with an employee and when one passes away it affects everyone in the park,” Krager said. “Any time any animal passes away, whether it’s big or small, we’re all bummed at Bays Mountain because we do have a specific bond. It’s almost like a family member leaving.”

Since Otto’s death, Bays Mountain has been working to prevent this from happening again.

“As we are providing programs at any of the habitats, we are letting people know, don’t throw different foods into habitats,” Krager said. “We explain that there is a particular individual that monitors the diet of each animal. Just because we as humans can consume certain foods doesn’t mean it’s going to be okay for other animals.”

They have also added signs to inform the public to not feed the animals.

This story is not just local; it made national news.

“Due to social media, a lot of the community shared different pictures and stories about seeing Otto,” Krager said. “We did have some people who were frustrated at what had taken place. We had, for several weeks, people calling us and saying that they were sorry about what had occurred. We had some people bring a bucket with flowers and place it in front of his habitat.”

Abby Kilgore, a middle school science teacher, was disappointed to hear about Otto’s death.

“This is very sad,” she said. “It is very clearly marked to not feed the animals. Always follow rules at state parka and respect the animals. Never interact with animals unless given permission.”

This story is far from over, according to Krager.

“Right now, we are making some improvements to the habitat; then we will start looking for some otters,” Krager said. “They are not as available as dog puppies are. What we have to do is talk to different zoos. Sometimes rehabbers have an otter or two. So, there’s a lot of background that we have to go through before we can get an otter back at Bays Mountain.”

Kilgore hopes that the community will take care of these new otters.

“Bays Mountain is such a resource and all are very lucky to live in a place where we have such an awesome state park,” she said.

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