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Wildtracks: Conservation, Research and Education

Wildtracks blog


Missy the Neotropical River Otter - Escapologist Extraordinaire! (Hugo)

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So, I’ve just been told that this is in fact the first time a third blog has ever been done on the same animal so I’m proud to say I’m breaking new ground.

But first, a reintroduction: while I (Hugo Palejowski) am the principle carer of Mia, the Yucatan Black Howler Monkey, on whom my last blog was focused, I am also the principle carer of Missy, the Neotropical River Otter. Followers of the Wildtracks blog series will remember Missy being mentioned in my first piece. Up until two weeks ago Missy was under the care of Angela, however Angela’s time with the project has come to an end and so I happily stepped up to provide for her.

Missy has come a long way in her time here from fairly humble beginnings. Initially she was unable to fish for herself and had to be fed pre-killed food, as well as being fearful of swimming in deep water or water with poor visibility. Step-by-step she was taught how to hunt and now she will happily take live fish from a pool. The question of whether she would take to deep water was answered when, while I was walking her from her enclosure to the lagoon for a paddle, she leapt headlong into a pool that had been intentionally filled to waist height and began happily play-biting my hands and diving around.

So with two boxes ticked towards her release, the final task for Missy remains: will she ever be happy staying in her pen without trying to escape every 15 minutes? For those keeping score, the previous record for escapes in a day was around 6. However a new tally of 8 was established a few days after Angela’s departure. This personal best was achieved despite on-going work to fortify the pen, and much to the frustration of the volunteers involved.

Missy’s talent for escape means that her care requires about the same amount of time and attention as all of the Wildtracks’ monkeys put together. It also means that her enclosure is in an almost constant state of change and is essentially evolving to adapt to a creature with all the cunning and tenacity of a weasel, fox, or any other incredibly wily animal you can think of. With this in mind, one of the most immediate goals for Missy is the continued escape-proofing of her pen. Work to cover the top with chicken wire is underway and nearing completion; regular manual cleaning of her pool’s algae and floating plant life keeps it healthy and vastly increases the amount she swims in it; changing of the materials available and landscape within her run reduces boredom with her environment; and reinforcing the base of the perimeter helps reduce the frequency of her escape attempts by limiting her capacity to dig. In an ideal world, Missy would be free to roam Wildtracks’ site to get all the exercise and entertainment she needed, unfortunately there would be no feasible way to a) prevent her leaving the site and b) protect her from the attentions of Wildtracks’ resident canine volunteers, Sally and Miko.

On the basis of this, and to allow the uninterrupted improvement of her enclosure, Missy has been temporarily transferred to the medium manatee pool, sunk into the land, equipped with water supply, shade, food, and the comforts of her original pen: her blanket and a succession of cardboard boxes that she keeps shredding. While this is not as natural for her as her run, it is a necessary and, I emphasise, brief measure whilst we make Missy’s cage Missy-proof….one final time (we hope).

However frustrating Missy occasionally is, she is also consistently cheeky, hilarious (the ‘otter dance’ is a Wildtracks sensation) adorable, comically greedy (she refuses to eat the fish in one half of her mouth until she has caught another in the other half) and most of all a happy resident of Wildtracks.

Whilst Missy’s release is on the horizon, the idea and planning are still very much in their infancy. Last week, the Belizean Forest Department gave Wildtracks the go ahead to start looking for suitable release sites - while this is fantastic progress it also highlights how distant the prospect of her release really is.

Published by: Zoe Walker at 2013-03-28 12:21:37   [Link to this article]


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