Historic Fauna: Zoo opens otter permanent exhibit

With raincoats and umbrellas, dozens of mask-wearing visitors on Saturday attended the newly opened Otter Bahn exhibit at the Gladys Porter Zoo, which features two North American River Otters who are 3 years old and were brought from the Oakland Zoo.

The new permanent exhibit hopes to entertain and educate the public about otters since they are playful and curious. Dr. Patrick M. Burchfield, executive director at the Gladys Porter Zoo, said otters have historic ties with this area.

“This is kind of a retrospective exhibit for Brownsville, in as much as otters were once very common in the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo, and this is its return. … Historically they were here, we actually did work with a student in Mexico following otters in Tampico and the range on the East Coast also goes all the way down the coast line… Otters basically are part of our historic fauna,” Burchfield said while showing a map of Mexico that features the area of the otters.

“It is also exciting that last year for the first time in the 50 years that I’ve been here we actually had a report and photographs of otters in the resaca in Brownsville. So this is just really neat because we brought the otters primarily because they are so playful and curious and always doing something. So we thought that they would provide a unique and active exhibit.”

Burchfield said it is important for the community to support the zoo not only because it is the largest animal conservation and education facility in South Texas but also because it exposes children to nature who are otherwise very urbanized. He added it is important to educate future generations on the importance of nature because there are big issues that have to be resolved.

“Gladys Porter Zoo is the largest conservation, education facility in South Texas and we serve children and adults all the way from Laredo to Corpus Christi and for many children who have become more urbanized, the zoo is the eyes to nature and it’s our only chance to help them to become better environmental stewards,” he said.

“Hopefully this generation coming up will do a better job than my generation and my father’s generation did in taking care of the environment, because we are in big trouble environmentally.”

The zoo will open on Labor Day and invites the community to attend during their regularly scheduled hours, which are Friday to Sunday, to enjoy the new exhibit, feed the animals and enjoy a fun day in nature while following safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing face masks and washing your hands regularly at the fully-operational restrooms. For more information about the exhibits, memberships and tickets, visit gpz.org or call the zoo at (956) 546-7187.

“If you haven’t been to the zoo in a while you’ve missed a lot because our new colobus crossing exhibit it’s very dynamic; a whole family of colobus monkeys and a brand-new baby … the Huastecan exhibit with the capuchin monkeys is wonderful and now this new otter exhibit,” Burchfield said.

“There is so much to see and people love to come and feed the giraffes and as we are able and as conditions permit we will start opening up those other feeding opportunities for the public. But we are only going to do that as we are able to monitor the situation and secure the safety of the public and the animals.”