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'She's pretty self-sufficient': Annabelle doing fine without significant otter

FARGO -- Annabelle was alone on Christmas. And New Year's. And now Valentine's Day. For five months, the Red River Zoo has been seeking a mate for Annabelle, the zoo's sole North American river otter, but so far, no dice. "Otters in captivity are...

Annabelle the second, the river otter acquired by the Red River Zoo between the deaths of siblings Annabelle (the first) and Butler, is still without a playmate. David Samson / The Forum
Annabelle the second, the river otter acquired by the Red River Zoo between the deaths of siblings Annabelle (the first) and Butler, is still without a playmate. The zoo would like to find an otter that could mate with Annabelle 2 and produce genetically diverse offspring, but Executive Director Lisa Tate is also willing to take a female. (David Samson / Forum News Service)

FARGO -- Annabelle was alone on Christmas. And New Year's. And now Valentine's Day.

For five months, the Red River Zoo has been seeking a mate for Annabelle, the zoo's sole North American river otter, but so far, no dice.

"Otters in captivity are hard to find," said Lisa Tate, the zoo's executive director. "They don't have a lot of litters. They're not breeding well in captivity."

Annabelle was supposed to mate with Butler, the zoo's male otter who died in September following surgery to remove an abscessed tooth. Butler's sister, Annabelle the first, died in April, also following surgery. Neither woke up from the anesthesia.

The current Annabelle arrived in May and has been alone since Butler's death. (A donor purchased the name Annabelle, which is why the zoo kept it, Tate said.)

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But solitude suits Annabelle.

She spends her days digging tunnels in the snow, pushing around balls and swimming in an indoor pool. When the zoo put in sod, she would burrow under the pieces as if they were tents.

"She's pretty self-sufficient, actually," said keeper Jennifer Jacobsen. "Frequently in the wild, female otters are more solitary."

Jacobsen described Annabelle as curious, clever, a perfectionist.

"We joke around that she likes feng shui because she rearranges her rocks how she likes them," Jacobsen said.

Annabelle, who is believed to be about 8 years old, has shown no signs of loneliness, such as sleeping more than usual or grabbing her tail for comfort.

Even with Butler, "she was more like, 'You're the crazy roommate. I know you're here, and I'll play with you for a little bit, but you know what, just leave me alone, and we'll be best friends that way,' " Jacobsen said. "She's a little more used to being alone."

Annabelle was rescued from the wild in Ohio, where she was at risk of becoming part of the fur trade. This made her independent, but also a strong candidate for breeding.

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"Since she's wild-caught, her genes are very valuable to the captive population," said Tom Colville, the zoo's attending veterinarian.

The zoo is on an otter waiting list through the Species Survival Plan, which pairs up otters based on genetics.

Tate said the zoo is willing to take another female, but a male is preferable, Colville said. His hope is that new litters this year will include or free up a male. It's also possible that if two otters at another zoo aren't compatible, one could come here.

"Just like people, they might not get along," Tate said. "So one might become available."

Related Topics: RED RIVER ZOO
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