NOBLE, Okla. (KFOR) – The orphaned otters have been living in an outdoor enclosure for a few months now, learning to swim and fish, and growing.

Veterinarian Dr. Kyle Abbott estimates, “They started out at about a pound and have grown to at least 20 pounds.”

They looked like large potatoes back in March 2022.

Their eyes were still closed.

These river otter pups wouldn’t have stood a chance without the careful hand feeding from specialists like Hannah Altonji and Tim Burkey.

“We’re just so proud to see them all grown up and ready to go,” Altonji smiles.

The pups thrived in their care.

So much so that on a clear October morning they faced another and, hopefully, last step in their rehabilitation, release back into the wild.

Abbott gathered them in pairs, which included one more orphaned otter to go with the original three discovered when an oil field crew moved some of their equipment, inadvertently crushing the mother.

“How did you know they were ready for release,” asked an observer.

Abbott replied, “Generally, we know they are independent from their mom at 9 to 12 months of age. All along we’re hitting milestones and preparing them to be ready for the wild.”

During their months-long process between rescue and release staff had been scouting a good spot away from people with year-round access to water.

They found it on a remote stretch of the South Canadian River.

“This might not be where they stay long term,” says Abbot, “but it’s a great transition site.”

Wildcare staff call this a soft release.

As cages open, staff will leave food nearby so the otters can supplement their diet while they get used to the new environment.

They circle a few times in the seconds after their release, then hit the water to explore.

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Staff at Wildcare point their efforts like this as the best possible outcomes for the animals they see.

“This is what it’s all bout,” Abbott continues. “We always have this goal at the very end in our minds.”

That’s why there are more than a few tears as their charges leave the artificial nest.

“Mission accomplished,” remarks one observer.

“Yes,” says an animal specialist as she wipes a tear.

Learn more about Wildcare Oklahoma on their website.

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