N.C. Aquarium Mourns Loss of Beloved North American River Otter
17-year-old Pungo was a favorite among staff and visitors
Pine Knoll Shores, N.C. — We are heartbroken to share the loss of our male North American river otter, Pungo. The 17-year-old otter had been receiving treatment for an age-related, degenerative spinal issue for a number of years.
About six years ago, our veterinary team began managing Pungo’s spinal condition, which initially had only minor impacts on his mobility. N.C. Aquariums Chief Veterinarian Emily Christiansen notes that arthritis and similar degenerative conditions are common in geriatric otters and can often be managed with pain medication for some time to maintain a high quality of life. Pungo responded favorably and continued to act normally.
Because of the progressive nature of this condition over time, Pungo’s care team has monitored his comfort level and mobility very closely and has been slowly modifying and increasing Pungo’s medication over the years as he aged.
However, within the last few months, he started showing increased signs of discomfort. Sadly, within the last two weeks, Pungo had stopped responding to the modifications to his medications and his condition deteriorated on Friday, as he lost interest in interacting with the other two otters, as well as in eating even his favorite fish and treats. Despite extensive expert veterinary and animal care efforts, he died overnight on March 25.
River otters generally live alone or in small social groups. They can live eight to nine years in the wild but can live up to 20 years in professional human care.
Pungo arrived at the Aquarium in spring 2006 with Neuse, a second American river otter of the same age. Then the duo became a trio when in 2008 Eno arrived as a pup and was introduced to the other two in early 2009. Neuse is at least 17 years old, and Eno is 14. Both are doing well and are healthy.
Pungo was the alpha male of the group, and their care team has been closely monitoring the behaviors of the other two otters during this transition, as a change in dominance may naturally happen.
Pungo loved to play with ice cubes and leaves and could often be found napping or under blankets in the habitat. “Pungo was the one who liked to roll around in the blankets and towels behind-the-scenes,” said Kristen Cook, NC Aquarium otter keeper. “He loved the ice enrichment the most and he was all about the bedding and making it comfy,” she said.
The N.C. Aquariums' veterinary team will perform a necropsy to learn more about the animal’s condition. This information may help animal care teams across the country care for their North American river otters.