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Cali Owings, Published September 01 2013

Red River Zoo to unveil otters and art

FARGO - The front entrance to the Red River Zoo should have been locked the night a man showed up clutching a young wounded animal wrapped in a towel.

Lisa Tate, the zoo’s executive director, was waiting for board members to arrive for a training session. She thought the man had an injured squirrel or bird.

“But then I saw it was a little river otter,” Tate said. The young otter was limp and he had puncture marks on his body.

Zoo staff started nursing the injured otter back to health. Tate said they didn’t know if he would survive. A few days later, the same man found a female otter while walking his dog near the Sheyenne River in West Fargo.

The two otters that were bottle-fed and trained to swim by zoo staff will call the new “Otter Rapids” exhibit home upon its completion next week.

Tate said they had planned the exhibit long before the young otters fell into their lap in spring 2013.

The exhibit’s grand opening is Sept. 16, but the public can catch a glimpse of the otters in their new habitat during a fundraising event Thursday night.

This week marks an exciting time for the Red River Zoo.

On Tuesday, staff will unveil a mosaic art piece created by Magda McGowan Szeitz, a local artist who earned a fine arts degree at Minnesota State University Moorhead. A grant from the Arts Partnership of West Fargo, Fargo and Moorhead paid for the piece. It features glass tile images of the zoo’s past, present and future, including animals it could acquire for future exhibits such as tigers and penguins.

The zoo’s second annual ZOOlebration fundraising night will be prime time for the otters, and also an opportunity to celebrate the zoo’s accomplishments.

This year, the Red River Zoo is a finalist for the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums highest conservation award for its work with the Chinese red panda.

A quarter of the captive red panda species in North American zoos are bred here. Mattie the red panda was born just 11 weeks ago, and he’ll be the new ambassador for the zoo and the face of MATBUS.

The ZOOlebration will include a documentary screening of the Red River Zoo story featuring interviews with longtime zoo supporters Tom Wold and former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness.

There will also be a live auction.

About 300 gallons of water flow through the waterfall and stream in the otter exhibit every minute.

This detailed habitat is a new style of exhibit for the Red River Zoo.

Many local contractors and a national firm specializing in artificial rock had a hand in bringing the “Otter Rapids” creek to life.

Outdoors, viewers can watch the otters float down the stream or play on a log nestled in the grass. The indoor viewing area allows attendees to get a glimpse of the otters swimming underwater.

Tate hopes building more exhibits with indoor viewing areas will encourage more people to visit the zoo in the winter, when many of its cold weather species are more active.

The otter habitat is an “immersion exhibit” like the gray wolf area. Tate said the zoo is moving toward more immersion experiences in the future.

She hopes the success of “Otter Rapids” will be a “catalyst” for future exhibits.

“The zoo has a lot of room to grow,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599