Starving baby otter rescued from Arizona canal

PHOENIX — A 4-week-old otter that was rescuedfrom an Arizona canal — dehydrated, starving and infested with fleas — has found a new home at a wildlife park.

The baby otter was discovered struggling to get out of the drying canal north of Mesa by Salt River Project crew members. Now, it has a good appetite and enjoys playing with its toys.

Craig Boggs, Dave Massie and Joshua Shill were working on a road nearby last month when they noticed the otter, which looked too small to use the steps other animals use to get out of the canal, according to SRP officials.

They contacted the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the otter was taken to the department's Adobe Mountain Wildfire Center in Phoenix. Wildlife staff cared for the otter, feeding it a nutritious trout mash mixed with kitten's milk.

The otter was taken to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde on April 26.

Ashton Powell, spokeswoman for the wildlife park, said that after doing some research, officials learned that they won't be able to determine the sex of the otter until the pup is a little more developed, unless they send it for an X-ray. They plan to do the X-ray in the near future, but for now getting the otter back to a healthy state is their priority, she said.

Powell said they've named the pup Otter Baby in the meantime.

"Otter Baby is eating very well and loves her stuffed animals," Powell said, admitting that at first they thought the otter was female.

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The organization is having a naming contest this weekend to give Otter Baby a "real" name, Powell said.

Staff members will put a few of their gender-neutral ideas in a hat and will have members of the public vote for their favorite.

According to Nathan Gonzalez from Game and Fish, this is the first time the agency helped rescue an otter from an SRP canal. Gonzalez said in an SRP news release that an otter family is believed to live near Granite Reef Diversion Dam, which is likely where this pup came from.

“While we don’t know for sure, it’s likely that as the canal started to draw down, Mom abandoned the canal and the baby was too young to follow,” Gonzalez said.

According to the Game and Fish Department, otters once were found in Salt, Verde, Little Colorado, Gila and Colorado rivers. They were almost wiped out by early settlers and re-emerged in the Verde River in the 1980s.

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