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Otters are back at the Milwaukee County Zoo!

Otter Passage exhibit returns playful mammals to the Milwaukee County Zoo

You can't imagine the look of panic and dismay on my kids' faces the day we walked into the small mammals building at the Milwaukee County Zoo and saw that the otters were gone. Watching Oscar and Buddy frolic in the water tank was always a highlight for us, and for many others, so when the duo died and the zoo moved its new sloth Fezzik into the tank, we were heartbroken. (No offense, Fezzik.)

Recently, the Milwaukee County Zoo officially announced the opening of the new "Otter Passage" exhibit just inside the new west entrance, which opened this spring with a parking lot and entrance area, as well as a snack bar and souvenir shop.

The new North American River Otter exhibit – home to three new 1-year-old female otters named Emerald, Clover and Shamrock – cost $7.9 million and moves the otters outdoors into a nearly 1,700-square-foot exhibit landscaped with rock, grass and mulch.

The frolicking otters now have the run of a 6,000-gallon, 8-foot-deep pool and a 6-foot-deep, 4,000-gallon pool.

A male otter is expected to arrive in the near future, allowing the zoo to create a sustainable breeding colony.

"We really wanted another signature exhibit to welcome guests at the new West Entrance, similar to the Humboldt Penguin Exhibit at the main entrance," Milwaukee County Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser said in a statement.

"We were thinking of an animal native to North America and able to stay outside year round, and river otters fit the bill perfectly. Plus the fact they're just so fun to watch!"

The exhibit has an artificial hollow tree trunk that allows kids to get nose to nose with the otters (through glass, of course), as well as an interactive training panel through which zookeepers can interact with the otters, providing visitors with a look at the animals' natural behaviors, each cuter than the next.

The new exhibit area also includes an off-exhibit holding facility designed to look like a woodsy cabin but which houses state-of-the-art support systems, including an indoor pool for the otters.

"The key objective of Otter Passage was to provide a great visitor experience with live animals immediately upon entering the Zoo," said John Kemper, vice president at St. Louis-based PGAV Destinations, which designed the exhibit and new entry plaza.

"While in the water, the resident otters are already interacting with the public, swiftly and agilely tracing children's hand motions through the glass. The new otters are excellent conservation ambassadors, helping to protect native otter populations, especially in Wisconsin."


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