The Denver Aquarium teaches the rescued river otter to be an animal

DENVER – Life is hard when you’re an otter who thinks it’s human.

Or an otter who thinks people are other otters. The Downtown Aquarium staff aren’t entirely sure what Olive thought. Regardless, it took a lot of patience to teach the playful little mammal how to get on with the wildlife.

Olive, originally named Oliver because aquarium workers believed she was male, was rescued after approaching a person at a Florida gas station. Bird and Mammal Curator LynnLee Schmidt said it was likely that she was dragged out of her den or that someone tried to keep her as a pet without realizing the demands of a North American river otter.

The stranded otter arrived at the Downtown Aquarium on March 24th – Schmidt’s birthday – when she was about three months old. She was too used to human interaction to be released into the wild. But it also took too much care to stay in the tank overnight. So she went home with the birthday girl.

Though cute, otters aren’t quite like dogs. Olive ate a delicious diet of raw, smelly fish that took up a place in the refrigerator next to Schmidt’s husband’s sandwich. Otters also eat a lot – about 20 percent of their body weight per day. She swam in the bathtub and decided to dry off on the carpet. She communicated through small nips. And although she began to sleep in a kennel the size of a Great Dane, she eventually roamed the house at night and found a particularly cozy place in Schmidt’s box spring.

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Schmidt said her husband was not disturbed by his temporary roommate. The couple had previously housed monkeys, porcupines, lemurs, and other animals. That’s life in business, she said. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a little annoyed when he stepped on a wet carpet in socks.

Olive stayed with the Schmidts until November. She was gradually transferred from sleeping at home to sleeping in the aquarium.

The aquarium already had two older male otters, but staff knew Olive wasn’t old enough to be with them and that they needed to interact with otters their age. So they looked for otter friends. This is how Olivia and Emilie came into the picture.

The sisters have their own sad past. A man in Alaska was fighting an otter that attacked his dog. So he picked up the otter and took her away. He later discovered that the otter was the mother of Olivia and Emilie, who settled under his porch.

The aquarium took in the sisters. Her bones were misshapen and thin – some so thin that an X-ray could barely see them. But after the otters received better nutrition and regular physical therapy, the sisters’ bones are now properly dense, although their legs will never be straight.

The sisters and Olive teamed up and created a sorority. They get along well but occasionally have sisterly gaiters. Regardless, they are all eager to show their backflips when Schmidt is around.

You can see the flips for yourself in the Downtown Aquarium. Although sometimes the two boys are in the public spotlight instead.

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