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Category — Otter

Five Ways the Zoo Can Help You Practice Mindfulness

Guest blogger: Education Intern, Kristina Meek

It seems that nearly every day another study informs us of the benefits of mindfulness–for children as well as adults. Educators use mindfulness techniques in classrooms. A wide range of authors, from the scientific to the self-help ends of the spectrum, have published books on how to be more mindful.

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

A meeting of the minds (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness techniques can be as immediate as a deep breath or as long-term as a commitment to daily meditation. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower stress, ease pain, increase empathy, and improve concentration.

What does that have to do with visiting the Zoo? Animals are excellent tutors of mindfulness. They don’t constantly check their cell phones, worry about what others think of them, regret the past or fear the future. They live in the now. The Zoo offers myriad ways to practice mindfulness. Here are five:

  1. Watch the red pandas play. Or the river otters. Or the apes. Choose your favorite, but take several uninterrupted minutes to fully observe animals at play. They don’t worry about whether they look silly or how many calories they’re burning. They play with abandon. Science doesn’t understand completely why animals play, but it clearly benefits them. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you can learn about living in the moment from the animals.

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Visitors watch the river otters play. (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  2. Engage your senses. A visit to the Zoo naturally coaxes you to use sight, smell, touch, hearing…and even taste, if you stop for a bite. Invite your children to describe what they see, hear, and smell. Encourage them to pet pygmy goats in the Spaulding Children’s Zoo. Sometimes it’s enough just to remember what the world looks like in three dimensions, rather than on a screen!
  3. Watch the manatees swim. Manatee Springs provides a comfy place to sit, close to the glass, with a view straight into the manatee tank. If you visit on a chilly day, mid-week, you’ll have the best chance at smaller crowds and a more relaxing experience. These hulking marine mammals twist and tumble gracefully through the water, inviting you to exhale and admire.

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Mesmerizing manatees (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  4. Try not photographing everything. Of course, you’ll want a few photos to remember your visit. But, if you’re a member and stop by regularly, designate a “no photography” trip. Or limit yourself to taking photos of only certain activities. You’ll be more focused on what’s happening instead of capturing it for later. Plus, if your camera is your phone, leaving it holstered will minimize the temptation to check Facebook, e-mail, or other incoming distractions. Whether you’re with your kids, other family, or good friends, you’ll enjoy more quality time together.
  5. Visit the Garden of Peace. Sit a moment and relax in this lesser-trafficked corner of the Zoo, just off the path near Jungle Trails. Take in the multi-cultural messages of peace and bask, for a moment, in gratitude–one of the key elements of mindfulness.

So, wherever you are right now… take a deep breath, and start planning your next visit to the Zoo. And, when life gets too hectic to make the trip, we’re always a click away with photos and videos that offer you a mini break from everyday stress.

March 23, 2016   No Comments

Breeding North American River Otters

north_american_river_otter_ faceCharismatic and curious North American river otters are so much fun to watch, but to get them to breed? That’s a whole lot trickier! North American river otters, as their name would suggest, live as far south as the Florida everglades, throughout most of the lower 48 states all the way north to the sub-arctic regions of US (Alaska) and Canada.  For these otters, when to breed and give birth needs to be timed so the pups are born when it’s not too cold and there are plenty of resources for mom and pup(s) to thrive.  Basically, otters in the south give birth and breed much earlier in the season than otters living further north.

In addition, female otters undergo a process known as delayed implantation. Fertilized otter eggs start developing into embryos, but stop developing for 7-10 months until they are eventually triggered to implant into the uterine wall and develop once again. The female otter gives birth (litter size 1-4 pups) approximately 70 days after implantation starts. Delayed implantation is what, in part, helps river otters time when they give birth.  So how does one know when implantation has occurred and when their otter may give birth? — By monitoring the hormones in their poop!

Each year starting usually November through January/February, US Zoos send otter fecal samples to CREW hoping to figure out if their otter may be pregnant and when she may be due. This season we monitored fecal samples from 11 river otter females and we were able to determine 8 of these females were possibly pregnant and 6 of those have already given birth {for example: pueblo zoo, buffalo Zoo}, making it a banner year for river otter babies!

Pueblo Zoo Otter Pup

Pueblo Zoo Otter Pup

However, the story doesn’t end there. Our research has shown that female otters born further south and moved to another zoo much further north, don’t always respond to the environmental cues encountered at their new latitude and adjust when they should breed and give birth – making it hard to know when to pair otters for breeding – but those fecal hormones have also proven useful in determining when to pair up otters as well {North Carolina}.

Publeo Zoo Pups – On Zooborns

Buffalo Zoo Pups – On Facebook

North Carolina Pups – News Article

March 28, 2014   9 Comments