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Welcome back, otter

 

Kitchi, a male river otter, escaped from Colorado Springs' Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this past May when he deftly pulled apart the mesh wire on his outdoor enclosure.  Zookeepers pursued him through a culvert with a robotic camera, but failed to catch him. He is still on the loose, perhaps living in nearby Fountain Creek. Kitchi's may be the only self-initiated release, but he is not the first otter to find freedom in Colorado.

After 70 years without otters, Colorado was the first state to reintroduce them to its waterways. Eventually more than 100 were released on five Colorado rivers, and 21 other states followed. In 2003, the state downlisted river otters from "endangered" to "threatened." Though statewide surveys have not been conducted, otters have been spotted everywhere from agricultural ponds to downtown Denver. "There is no question that breeding populations have become established," says Colorado Division of Wildlife Species Conservation Coordinator Eric Odell. "There are more otters in Colorado now than during the introductions 25 years ago." If unconfirmed sightings of otters in the Arkansas -- a river where introductions never took place -- are accurate, Kitchi may find companionship just downstream.