Kalee, a 7-month-old otter who was rescued in Alaska, explores her new habitat at the Detroit Zoo Dec. 20.

Kalee, a 7-month-old otter who was rescued in Alaska, explores her new habitat at the Detroit Zoo Dec. 20.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo


Rescued otter is newest Detroit Zoo resident

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 2, 2019

 The Detroit Zoo’s newest resident, Kalee, dives into the pool at the recently expanded Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat.

The Detroit Zoo’s newest resident, Kalee, dives into the pool at the recently expanded Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

 Kalee swims in the 9,000-gallon aquatic  area in her new home at the Detroit Zoo.

Kalee swims in the 9,000-gallon aquatic area in her new home at the Detroit Zoo.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

ROYAL OAK — On Dec. 20, 7-month-old female otter Kalee made her debut at the Detroit Zoo’s recently expanded Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat.

The North American river otter was discovered in June by hikers on a trail in Alaska when she was about 1 month old. The orphaned pup suffered from a laceration and a puncture wound on her side.

The Department of Fish and Game rescued the young otter and took her to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage until a permanent home could be found at the Detroit Zoo. It is the hope of the zoo that she will be a potential future mate for Sparky, a 4-year-old male river otter.

“Female river otters typically do not reproduce until they reach two years of age, but in the meantime, Kalee will be a playful companion for Sparky,” Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter said in a statement. “She is acclimating well to her new home and otter family.”

Kalee and Sparky share the habitat with Sparky’s parents, Lucius, 12, and Whisker, 15, as well as 17-year-old female Storm.

Last year, the zoo renovated and expanded the otters’ space to 2,500 square feet, triple its original size, with a larger aquatic area and outdoor oasis that includes a sandy beach, trees and a stream to complement the existing indoor space, which includes a waterfall and waterslide.

Kalee’s name is derived from longtime DZS board member Alan Kalter and his wife, Dr. Chris Lezotte. Their lead gift in 2012 to establish the Kalter/Lezotte Fund for Wildlife Rescue has since allowed the zoo to rescue and house many animals.

Tami Brightrall, associate curator of mammals at the Detroit Zoo, said staff at the Alaska Zoo fed the tiny orphaned otter milk, but now she is approximately the same size as Sparky and enjoys a diet that includes meat, carrots and boiled eggs.

“She’s very excited, swimming and enjoying all sorts of enrichments,” Brightrall said. “She was rubbing all over plants and rocks, utilized the pool a lot and followed Sparky around. She was like, ‘What are we doing? Let’s play together,’ and he was getting a little tired, I think.”

While once abundant in North American rivers, lakes and coastal areas, she said, river otter populations have suffered significant declines due to fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides and other threats.

“Otters are very, very hearty,” Brightrall said. “(Kalee) is so great and so friendly with the zookeepers. She’s such a great eater and she loves her toys.”

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, call (248) 541-5757 or visit www.detroitzoo.org.