There once was a three-legged otter named Thelma.
She was born in Minnesota, where a private citizen took her from her mom at a very young age to live with humans. As Thelma grew, her natural wild instincts became stronger and it became clear, like with most captive wild animals, that she should not be a pet.
Because she was taken from her mom at such a young age, she never learned how to swim.
Imagine that: an otter that can’t swim! And because she only had three legs due to a previous injury, zookeepers weren’t sure that swimming would even be an option. So they went to great lengths to help her learn what should have come naturally. And she took to it like . . . well, an otter to water.
After that, all she wanted to do was swim. And play. No one told her that girl otters were not supposed to get along with boy otters, so she nagged the other two older residents of the Pueblo Zoo exhibit, Odin and Thor, until they couldn’t resist. Tag-teaming, one would play with Thelma while the other napped.
Because she had been with humans from a young age, she also was interested in watching visitors as much as she was in playing with Odin and Thor. As a result,visitors helped distract Thelma, which helped the boys escape for a nap and keep their sanity.
In the end, Pueblo was treated to a unique otter family that loved to be together and loved interacting with people.
But while Thelma and the boys loved to play, they were not very successful in having babies.
Through working with other zoos and comparing notes and data, it was found that otters had better success at breeding when they came from similar geographic areas.
Thelma was originally from the north and the boys were from the south. So, along came Freyja. She looked up to Thelma as a mother figure and learned to play with the boys, too. Being from the same region as the boys, she had better success in breeding and not long after she arrived, she had three pups.
Now that the “formula” seems to be right and Freyja has proven to be a good mom, Pueblo may see more pups in the future.
In addition to the beautifully laid-out exhibit that is visible to the public, there is a very large off-exhibit area that allows the mother to distance herself from the group while caring for and training the pups. It is important that they learn skills, like swimming, from mom in order to survive.
Sadly, Odin passed away in April. On the bright side, Freyja gave birth to Odin’s two pups in March.
The pups are thriving behind the scenes as their mom cares for them. Their eyes are now open and they are getting warmed up for mom’s swimming lessons. Once they master swimming, they will join the rest of the happy family in the big pool.