Beloved otter's death brings outpouring of support

Matthew Lane • Jun 8, 2019 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Otto the river otter was a unique and wonderful animal that captured your imagination and your hearts. In the wake of his recent death, Bays Mountain Park officials say the response from visitors and the community at large has been encouraging and not at all surprising.

Park Manager Rob Cole offered these frank comments to the Times News this week, speaking to the greater Tri-Cities region about their cherished 2-year-old river otter that died last week.

Otto fell ill nearly two weeks ago after park officials found grapes in his enclosure on Memorial Day. He was transported to the University of Tennessee Animal Hospital for emergency care on May 30 but passed away that afternoon. Park officials are awaiting the results of a necropsy that will hopefully give insight into Otto’s exact cause of death.


In the wake of Otto’s death, Bays Mountain Park received numerous calls, emails and posts on its social media accounts expressing love and condolences. People posted dozens of pictures and videos of Otto; a few others made clear their anger over the apparent cause of death.

The Times News spoke with Cole last week about the response from the public. Here are his comments in their entirety.

“Those who have been there and watched (Otto) interact with our staff, seen him chase butterflies through the enclosure ... he was a dream, and we enjoyed him to the fullest. He genuinely enjoyed visitors coming by, and anyone who went by him got to see him showing off. It’s just been a really tough time for staff, and we’re still hurting and numb.”

“It’s tough to lose any animal,” Cole continued. “You get close to them and develop relationships with them. No, they’re not your pets and never will be. You develop rapport and bond with them, and that is one things that doesn’t easily break;

“We have a staff that is dedicated and takes it very hard. This is tough. In the animal-care business, you know when something tragic happens you’re going to outlive them, but when it comes sudden and unexpected, it brings a whole different level of shock and hurt that all animal owners can describe.”

“That’s where we are, and we thank the public for their outpouring, support and encouragement,” Cole concluded. “We also want to thank those who shared comments and pictures and videos on social media. It’s been wonderfully received and means a lot to us.”


The care and safety of the animals at Bays Mountain Park is of the utmost concern to the staff, Cole said, and to the best of their ability, this includes security at all of the enclosures. There are no cameras by the otter habitat because at the time the park was built, it wasn’t designed to support that kind of infrastructure.

“Having said that, you can bet that’s something we’ll look at when it relates to temporary surveillance until we can launch into the renovation of our animal habitats,” Cole said. “We’ll look at everything that we can to improve in those areas.”

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.

Currently, there is no timeline on when the park will receive another otter, but it’s something park officials are working on.

“We are already reaching out and making contacts. Understandably, it does take time, so please be patient with us,” Cole said. “There’s no way we’re going to replace Otto, but he will be replaced.”