PVM River Otter Legacy Continues

December 7, 2012

Thanks in part to the work of Purdue Veterinary Medicine faculty and residents, who helped with an Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation program, river otter populations are expanding in Indiana and they now occupy much of their historic range.  Officially considered extirpated from Indiana by 1942, river otters were absent from the landscape for more than 50 years, according to the DNR. Then in 1995, wildlife officials began releasing otters into key areas of the state. Over a five-year period, 303 otters were transported from Louisiana and released at 12 sites in northern and southern Indiana.

Under the direction of Dr. Wallace Morrison, professor of oncology (now retired), a team of PVM veterinarians and technicians, working with DNR officials and some community volunteers, examined the otters, which were brought to the Junior Surgery Room in Lynn Hall.  The first group of otters had telemetry transmitters surgically implanted in their abdomens to better help DNR officials monitor their survival and dispersal in the initial release area.  The otters received vaccines and blood was drawn for analysis.  Some had minor surgeries and even root canals to enhance their chances of survival post release. 

River Otter

The work was done on weekends.  Some 60 otters were treated in a single Saturday.   The team of faculty members and residents included Professor of Small Anima Surgery Gary Lantz, Small Animal Internal Medicine Specialists Catharine Scott-Moncrieff and Lynn Guptill, PVM Clinical Associate Professor of Wellness Steve Thompson, and Dr. Karen Cornell, who went on to join the small animal medicine and surgery faculty at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine after her PVM residency.  Professor of Veterinary Pathology Paul Snyder also got involved and compared clinical laboratory results from blood drawn from these river otters with equivalent samples that he and then Dean Al Rebar had collected from sea otters affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  Purdue Veterinary Medicine alumnus and veterinary dental specialist Greg Inskeep (PU DVM ’84) also helped, and fellow alumni Todd Clark (PU DVM ’72) and Pam Jackson (PU DVM ’93) provided extra dental equipment from their practice, Creekside Animal Hospital in Lafayette, Ind.  

With the help of Dr. Morrison and his team of volunteers, the river otter reintroduction effort was so successful that by 2005, otters were removed from the state’s endangered species list.  DNR nongame biologist Scott Johnson says River otters now occupy more than 80 percent of Indiana counties.  For more information about the program, see the DNR River Otter web page at http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7438.htm.

Writer: Kevin Doerr, pvmnews@purdue.edu

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