According to park officials, Otto fell ill after park guests threw food into his enclosure that his body could not tolerate. Park Manager Rob Cole said park staff discovered grapes in Otto’s enclosure on Monday.
“What he consumed, we’re not 100 percent sure, but at least grapes were found,” Cole said Thursday before Otto’s death. “Otto exhibited initially what we thought were balance issues. He wasn’t real steady on his feet and his condition hasn’t improved, so it was time to make sure all is well and that Otto would be okay.”
Cole later said that the earliest UT veterinary officials will release Otto’s body would be early next week. Otto will be brought back to the park and given a private burial, allowing staff and volunteers to pay their final respects.
Otto came to the park as a 9-month-old in October 2017 from a rehabilitation facility in North Carolina. The facility cared for Otto and his sibling after they lost their parents in a flood. The hope was to release them back into the wild, but the pups had lost their fear of humans, so Otto found a new home at Bays Mountain Park.
Otto was beloved by park staff and guests alike. A cheerful creature, he could often be found swimming or playing with toys in his pool, even when it was snowing outside.
Otto’s death should serve as a reminder that feeding the animals at Bays Mountain Park is strictly prohibited for a reason, Cole said. Human food is often intolerable and, in this case, even harmful to the animals. Cole asked park visitors to follow all posted rules, including the signs that say not to feed the animals.
“Grapes aren’t part of their diet and it’s not what we feed them,” Cole said. “Even the most well-intention efforts to feed them is not a good idea and we’re dealing with the aftereffects now.”
Park officials would like to thank everyone who sent well-wishes for Otto after the initial statement on Thursday. If you have any photos or memories of Otto, park officials are asking you to share them on social media.