According to a statement from zoo officials, all four of the three-month-old otter pups and their mother were sickened by a “rapidly-progressing gastrointestinal problem.”
The zoo’s veterinarian and zookeepers were able to save two of the pups, but sadly, the mother and two pups did not survive — despite the rapid intervention and treatment, zoo officials said.
Preliminary test results have indicated an intestinal infection may be the culprit.
“We believe it is probably an infectious disease just from the way it hit very quickly,” Carmen Murach, curator of animals at the NEW Zoo told WLUK.
“The otters, at 12 weeks of age, are just being weaned and that is a stressful time in an animals’ life and they may have been more susceptible to an infection at that point,” Dr. Tracey Gilbert said.
Just two days after the pups got sick, a visitor to the exhibit noticed the pups’ mother, Bonine, was also showing signs of illness.
“The mom got violently ill out on the exhibit and we ended up moving her back in. We got antibiotics in her,” Neil Anderson, NEW Zoo director said.
Anderson says despite their efforts, Bonnie died the next day.
“This was certainly a shock to the staff,” Anderson said.
The remaining two adult otters and two pups are under medical observation and being closely monitored for signs of illness. The surviving pups continue to gain strength and are expected to make a full recovery.
“At this point, we have no reason to believe that this is anything that is highly contagious to other animals or people,” Murach said.
An older female is staying in another area of the zoo. And Skokie, the adult male, is still on exhibit.
“He looks great, looks fantastic — but we’re really monitoring him on a day-to-day basis to make sure none of the otters come down with this sudden illness.We’re still cautiously optimistic that everybody else is going to be OK — but because it was such a sudden and rapid illness that actually got into the otter collection, we don’t know from where or what, we want to make sure that we’re very vigilant.
Visitors hope the zoo finds answers soon.
The mother, Bonnie, gave birth to the four otter pups in March.
Post-mortem examinations were performed on all three animals. Tests are being conducted at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to determine the cause of the illness. Final results of these tests will be available in three to four weeks.