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Caring for Bakairi

As animal care professionals, we spend countless hours making sure the animals live the best life possible and form close bonds with each of them, but loss is inevitably part of our job and is arguably the toughest part of the job. You may have heard that recently we said goodbye to a member of our carnivore animal family. Yzma, the Zoo’s female giant river otter, passed away due to health complications a few weeks ago. She was spunky, kept everyone on their toes, and was notorious for trying to feed the male otter, Bakairi, her fish even though they both got their own portion.

We all miss Yzma dearly, and her absence leaves a hole in our days, but our top priority is always making sure we put our best foot forward for the animals here at the Zoo. When an animal who is part of a social group passes, we quickly observe and adjust our routines to ensure the remainder of the group is happy and thriving. For this reason, we have been paying extra close attention to Bakairi here at the Zoo. Following Yzma’s passing, the entire team was carefully and diligently monitoring his behavior. The first few days were an adjustment for everyone, but Bakairi bounced back very quickly.

To make sure that we were accommodating everything Bakairi needed during this transition, we increased the amount of time we spent with him each day. He was already being visited by his care team at least five times a day for his fish feedings, but we made sure to check on him even more often as he adjusted to life without Yzma. We also provided him with extra enrichment and made sure to give him extra of his favorite items. Bakairi really enjoys drying off on carwash strip material, so we provided plenty of those for him to roll around on. We have also increased our training sessions with him, and have been trying different feeding methods for each of his meals. We used to have to separate him and Yzma during feedings so that there wasn’t any competition for fish, but now we are able to give Bakairi free range of all his pools during a feeding, which allows him to engage in even more natural foraging and fishing behaviors, much like giant otters would do in the wild.

Each day we monitor Bakairi and adjust our care routine if necessary. In the meantime, members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Giant River Otter Species Survival Plan, or SSP, are communicating with management here at Zoo Atlanta to work out a social plan for Bakairi. The mission of the SSP is to oversee the population management of select species in AZA-accredited organizations and to enhance conservation of those species in the wild. This group of people carefully monitors the population of each of these species in human care, keeps track of the genetics of the population, and makes recommendations based off that information. Zoological organizations strive to maintain sustainable and genetically diverse populations, and SSPs play a huge role in making sure that goal is achieved and maintained.

So, while the SSP and Zoo Atlanta animal care teams are hard at work keeping Bakairi’s best interests in mind, rest assured that he is being monitored and receiving excellent care from his animal care team. Bakairi holds a piece of all our hearts, as do all the animals here at the Zoo. Making sure he is happy, healthy, and thriving is not just part of our jobs, but something we take pride in as a Zoo Atlanta family.
Danica Wolfe
Swing Keeper I, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl