The new $7.9m “Otter Passage” provides a great new home for three North American River Otters and is now open at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
The outdoor exhibit combines nearly 1,700 sq. ft. of grass, rock, and mulch with an eight-foot-deep, 6,000-gallon pool and a six-foot-deep, 4,000-gallon pool to create a dynamic, enriching environment for the highly energetic, social romp of otters.
“We really wanted another signature exhibit to welcome guests at the new West Entrance, similar to the Humboldt Penguin Exhibit at the main entrance,” said Zoo director Chuck Wikenhauser. “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!”
One-year-old female otters Emerald, Clover, and Shamrock recently arrived from separate zoos, with Clover and Shamrock having been born on St. Patrick’s Day. The Zoo intends to welcome a male otter in the near future, with the hope of establishing a sustainable breeding colony. The romp now has the comfort and opportunity to explore their new environment, complete with a splash pad, 15-foot slide, a flowing stream connecting the pools, and numerous up-close opportunities for guests.
Throughout the warm months, visitors can enjoy a brand new, interactive training panel, where zookeepers can interact with the otters to demonstrate natural behaviors. This unique interactive otter exhibit gives guests the opportunity to gain respect and admiration for otters and their relationships with the Zoo’s team. Children can also enter an otter den inside an artificial hollowed-out tree trunk, separated by a piece of glass, while still being nose-to-nose with 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 PGAV Destinations, the St. Louis-based firm that 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.”
The addition includes state-of-the-art back-of-house support systems and holding facilities, providing world-class care for the otters. Themed as a cabin in the woods, the off-exhibit holding facility also features solar tubes for natural light and an indoor pool.
The new entry plaza provides an additional introduction to the Zoo, reinforcing its brand and key messages of conservation, while offering guests new comforts like expanded and closer parking, beverage and snack opportunities, and otter-themed merchandise. The expansion is the latest effort of the Zoo’s 20-year master plan, which addresses improvements in animal exhibits and enrichment, visitor attractions, amenities, service facilities, and operations.