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The saga of the Woodland Wildlife Sanctuary’s rehabilitated otters, Burt and Loni, who were released at my riverfront property on Easter weekend continues.  We set up a trail camera at the rendezvous site so that we could monitor their behaviour and make sure they were eating what was provided.  They’re images could be seen at all hours of the day and night eating,  just rolling around or lounging on the rocks.

My routine was to walk out to the site before work – around 7am – calling out for them and banging a metal bowl with a potato masher, wearing big rubber boots in case I had to remove any uneaten fish from the water  (hilarious visual I know) carrying a bag of chunks of thawed mackerel and their favourite treat, hardboiled eggs.   The banging and yelling was partly to alert them that I was coming but also to scare away any predators such as bears who may be interested in the fragrant fish I was had with me.   (If you’ve ever had the pleasure of catching a whiff of a fresh mackerel you’ll understand the olfactory wake I was creating as I moved through the woods).  Initially Loni and Burt came immediately when called and I was able to enjoy about 15 minutes of amusing interaction with them.  I was always greeted by their delightful little “chuff-chuff” sounds which I took to mean they were pleased to see me.   After a brief nosh and a wrestle with each other, they dried themselves fully on my pant leg to puff up their glorious, shiny coats followed by a thorough “mark your territory” ceremony on the rocks.  The biggest challenge was then to extricate myself from the scene because they enjoyed the challenge of trying to follow me back home.  My technique was pretty simple – throw a piece of fish in the water and run!  This generally worked after a couple of initial failed attempts when I’d turn around completely out of breath to see if I was alone and find them both staring up at me.

Otters enjoying themselves

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Feeding the Otters
















By the beginning of May, my encounters with them became less frequent.  I deduced that their preferred feeding time was closer to noon in keeping with their schedule from the Sanctuary, and hopefully indicated that they were finding their own food and were less desperate for a morning meal.   After not seeing them for a couple of days I became worried and my husband, son and I ventured up river in the canoe.  We soon spotted some movement along the bank and found them at an abandoned beaver den looking pretty pleased with themselves.  The top had collapsed but despite the “open-air” concept,  they seemed to enjoy the view and made the most of the hidden escape hatch from inside, diving down directly into the river from inside the den.  As we approached,  they disappeared except for a trail of bubbles on the river which gave their position away.  I was comforted by the fact that they were wary of the canoe.  I intentionally didn’t speak or interact as I wanted to encourage a healthy respect for strange watercraft.  Along the shore I noticed little fish tails and shells of fresh water clams, further evidence that they were indeed starting to source their own sustenance.   It occurred to me that perhaps it was time to ease up on daily bowl bashing through the woods.  I reduced my feeding to 1 fish for both of them to share and sometimes they left some uneaten for the racoons and ravens to clean up.


In the beaver lodge

Evidence of food







One day we looked at the camera card and found a new visitor at the feeding site – a small black bear.  Mom couldn’t be far away.  From then on visited the rendezvous spot from the canoe and placed the mackerel deeper into the water to keep the smell down.




By May 10th, 3 weeks after their release, I saw Burt and Loni together for the last time.   They arrived for a morning meal and took a couple of unenthusiastic bites of their mackerel pieces.  Burt, as usual, was more wary of me and I could tell he was far more interested in getting back to the river after establishing that I had nothing overly interesting to offer.  He would try to “herd” Loni away from me but she was intent on continuing her visit, much to Burt’s frustration.  I tried very hard not to reinforce her affectionate behaviour but if you have ever had an otter rub up against you like a cat and roll over for a belly rub you will know how hard it is to resist interacting.   One incentive to keep your hands away is to watch them tear apart their food – those teeth are sharp and their jaws are strong!

On May 11th I found Loni travelling alone.  Burt had disappeared.  I searched around the lodge and through the swamp but found no evidence of anything suspicious.  The following morning on May 12th, Loni came to the rendezvous spot for a snack.  She enjoyed her mackerel and stayed with me for a while.

Loni enjoying her fishHappy Loni eating mackerel



Beautiful Loni














I had to leave for work but as hard as I tried I couldn’t convince her to take her leave.  I threw fish into the water as usual but she didn’t fall for it.  I ran as fast as I could away down the path but she could run faster.  The closer she came to my cottage I knew she was getting closer to all the dangers associated with humans including more cottages and  a busy  highway. As much as it pained me to do so, I had to scare Loni back to the river.  I reached out and rattled some empty pop cans and that did the trick.  She ran as fast as she could back down the trail into the woods.  I was overcome with relief but over the next few days I couldn’t help but feel sad when I couldn’t find her.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see her after that.  My hope is that she realized that her place was with Burt and not with me.  I have since canoed up the river but I can’t find either of them.  I have been told that this is normal behaviour. One thing otters don’t do is stay still and they can range  up to 60 km.  Luckily we have hundreds of acres of crown land with ponds, wetlands, rivers and so on north of  us for them to explore and enjoy.  I hope they have found freedom and happiness.  Monika from the Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary has assured me that this is what a successful release is all about.. returning to the wild.  Good-bye Loni and Burt.  Hope to see you in the river eating frogs with the other otters in the spring.

Thanks to Camp Kawartha and the Red Rock Circle/Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary for creating this partnership that allowed me to get up close and personal with these incredible creatures.  And thank you so much to all those who donated their time, energy and financial support to the “Put An Otter In The Water” campaign.