Hidden away in the countryside of South West England you’ll find The Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre. A real hidden gem, this Centre specialises in animal care and rehabilitation. The residents include deer, meercats, wallabies, chipmunks, rabbits, birds.. but most importantly, of course, otters! Rhys (whose parents run the park) was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
When was the Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre founded?
The Centre was originally set up as the Tamar Otter Sanctuary in 1986, one of the Otter Trust’s three visitor centres at the time. For the first 20 years, the 21 acre-park’s primary purpose was to breed Eurasian otters to release into the wild here in Britain, in response to their near extinction in the 1950’s.
As the British otter population began to increase and stabilise, there was less demand for the Otter Trust to have three sites. The Otter Trust’s breed and release programme had been dormant for some time by 2006, so the park was looking tired in places and needed more than a lick of paint to restore and maintain it.
After being on the market for some time, my parents took over the centre in 2006, renamed the park Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre and separated from the Otter Trust. My parents, my sister and I (we would have been 10 and 7 yrs old) moved down to Cornwall to find The Centre in need of some serious TLC. My Dad had been in the police for 20+ years, and my Mum worked in the courts and in childcare, neither of them had any experience of working with animals.
My parents have now been managing the park for 14 years, which has been a huge learning experience for us all (particularly early starts to go to otter release sites as a teenager were a challenge!) This has included playing with orphaned otter cubs in the bath, trying to sneak orphaned Muntjac deer fawns and Wallaby joeys into bed without Mum and Dad knowing. We also had the opportunity to raise birds of prey such as Snowy owls, Kestrels and Harris Hawks. So our weekends were pretty eventful, and I suppose quite unusual in comparison to most families.
Now The Centre rehabiltates and releases sick/injured wild otters and birds of prey, whilst providing forever homes for those too unwell to go back to the wild. The park also has Asian Short-Clawed Otters and a variety of mammal and bird species living in a large, open environment to help to promote wildlife conservation and The Centre’s goal; to reconnect people with wildlife in a busy modern world.
How many otters do you have and what types?
Our largest otter family has 14 individuals, Mum (Leah), Dad(Feet) and all their babies! We have 26 otters across 2 species. 7 Eurasian Otters and 19 Asian Short-Clawed Otters.
Meet The Otters
Coady is a feisty, but lovable character born here at The Centre. She is probably the most natural mother we have. She has raised 6 cubs in her time, which was useful when moving in with her current roommate! Reggie (her cohabiter) came to us from the wild and is the only otter we have ever had that disliked getting into the water! However, after months of rehab and swimming refusal, it took only a few days of having Coady around to convince him to get his paws wet.
Another, unusual trait Coady has is her love for heights! Coady has been spotted and photographed as high as 15 feet in the tree in her enclosure, it was previously believed that Eurasian Otters could not climb trees. She will quite often do this when migratory waterfowl arrive at The Centre, or if she can smell wild male otters nearby.
Bubble & Squeak
Bubble & Squeak are brothers, born in September 2013. Bubble is an incredibly entertaining individual, he’s very dexterous and can juggle up to 5 pebbles at a time! He is very close to his brother Squeak, and they spend all their time together.
Bubble is definitely the alpha male of the two. Squeak is (unsurprisingly) loud, he cares little for political disputes with his brother and tasks himself with more important issues such as playing with feathers and leaves. He’s a chirpy individual, often with a smile on his face as you can see in the picture.
Harriet is the oldest otter at the centre at 17 years old! She arrived from the Otter Trust’s Earsham Centre in 2004. She is a firm favourite with the Keepers, who have grown to love her dearly over the many years. She has mothered several cubs in her time here.
Harriet is distinctively recognisable as she is very blonde in colour. She loves to keep a close eye on her Keepers, whilst they carry out maintenance tasks in her habitat, and has a very gentle nature. Whilst cubs would normally separate from their mother upon maturity at 2 years old, her last cub River still lives with her as a companion in her retirement. They get on exceptionally well, and while away their afternoons snoozing together under their favourite tree or doing their best dolphin impressions in the water!
What other animals do you have?
Other mammal species include: Muntjac deer, Fallow deer, Servals, European Polecats, Meerkats, Red-necked Wallabies, Harvest mice, Chipmunks, Rabbits.
Bird species: Owls (Snowy, Tawny, Barn, Little, European Eagle, Bengal Eagle, Great-Horned) Raptors (European Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Harris Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk), Parrots (orange-winged amazons, yellow-crowned amazons, parakeets, cockatiels) Gouldian & Zebra finches, peafowl (coloured and white!), Guineafowl, Waterfowl, Quail, Chickens.
Any colourful characters who deserve a special mention?
Poppy is our heinz 57 dog, she has been a dog to us but also a fantastic otter, owl, deer, wallaby and polecat, looking after many of our orphaned animals whether they were born at the park or in the wild.
What do you feed the otters?
The otters are predominantly fed fish, such as lemon sole, hake, whiting, haddock, john dory, wrasse. They also eat chicken, rabbit, eggs and ferret biscuits. For enrichment we will give them monkey nuts to help the waterproofing of their coats, and grapes because they’re like little otter-sized tennis balls, fun for playing!
Do you have any amusing stories from the park?
On a few occasions we have gone in early (6/7am) and found an otter running around by the enclosures! After panicking and counting all our otters, it has turned out that a local wild otter has come in from the river parallel to the park, when our females are in season. Always causes a few scares! But, it’s great to know we have such a vibrant local population!
Where Can I Find Out More:
There are various places you can follow updates from the Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre.
The main website can be found here where you’ll find plenty of useful visiting info: www.tamarotters.co.uk.
If social media is your preferred choice then the links below will be of interest: