Archive: Rescued Otter from Alaska Finds Sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo

Female Kalee could be male Sparky’s eventual ‘significant otter’

December 20, 2018

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

A 7-month-old female North American river otter named Kalee has found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo after being rescued in June by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG). The orphaned pup had sustained a laceration and puncture wound on her side when she was discovered by hikers on a trail in Hoonah, in Alaska’s panhandle in the southeast region of the state. The ADFG took her to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to be cared for until a permanent home could be found.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) applied to the State of Alaska for Kalee’s placement at the Detroit Zoo based on the DZS’s experience with North American river otters as well as the Zoo’s spacious, recently expanded Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat. Kalee is a potential future mate for Sparky, a 4-year-old male river otter born at the Detroit Zoo.

“Female river otters typically do not reproduce until they reach 2 years of age, but in the meantime, Kalee will be a playful companion for Sparky,” said DZS Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter. “She is acclimating well to her new home and otter family.”

Kalee also joins Sparky’s parents Lucius, 12, and Whisker, 15, as well as 17-year-old female, Storm, at the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat. The habitat was renovated and expanded last year to provide the animals more than triple the space, increasing from 680 to 2,500 square feet. The aquatic area grew from 5,900 to 9,000 gallons of water, and an outdoor oasis – complete with a sandy beach, tall trees and a flowing stream – was added to the existing indoor retreat, which includes a waterfall and waterslide.

Kalee is named in honor of longtime DZS board member Alan Kalter and his wife, Dr. Chris Lezotte, who provided the lead gift in 2012 to establish the Kalter/Lezotte Fund for Wildlife Rescue. Since then, the fund has enabled the DZS to facilitate the rescue of many animals and provide them sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo. To contribute to the fund, visit or call (248) 336-5729.

Adult North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) weigh 20-30 pounds, and their slender, cylindrical bodies reach 2-3 feet in length. These semi-aquatic mammals sport short, dense, waterproof fur and profuse whiskers. The playful river otters are swift on land as well as in the water, though their loping trot can appear somewhat ungainly compared to their graceful glide through the water.

Once abundant in U.S. and Canadian rivers, lakes and coastal areas, river otter populations have suffered significant declines due to fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides and other threats. Today, they can be found in parts of Canada, the U.S. Northwest, the upper Great Lakes region, New England and Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.