Farewell to the Otter Show

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 22, 2010

reach about two years of age. After that, they are aggressive and dangerous.

Even the Chambers, who hand-reared their otters from puppies, are not immune to attack as the animals mature. Glenn’s arms and hands bear the marks of many bites. Babyface, one of the Chambers’ second pair of otters, was only two years old when she bit Jeannie on the throat, barely missing her carotid artery.

Besides not having the disposition to be pets, otters are enormously expensive to keep. Buying one is just the beginning. Captive otters require special equipment and veterinary care. They eat a mixture of 96-percent lean ground sirloin, shredded carrots, commercial mink meal, tomato juice, eggs, cod liver oil and whole fish. Feeding them costs more than $4,000 per otter annually.

Several things led the Chambers to end their otters’ performing careers. For one thing, Jon McRoberts, the MU graduate student who has been their indispensable assistant, will graduate in December and leave to pursue his own career. Splash and Slide also are at the end of their manageable years on the road.

The Otter Message

Although the Chambers’ live-otter programs were tremendous fun, they also delivered three educational messages:

  • River otters are wonderful animals that were eliminated from Missouri by unregulated trapping and habitat destruction.
  • The Conservation Department brought otters back through a major restoration effort and now manages their numbers through a carefully regulated trapping season.
  • Otters are not pets. “They don’t want to be petted. They don’t want to be held,” said Glenn. “They just want to be otters.”

Finally, Glenn and Jeannie both admit that they’ve grown tired of the grind. They’ve had just one vacation in 13 years. “The Boys,” as they call the otters, will still require daily attention, but Glenn and Jeannie plan to take day trips within Missouri and develop other interests. Glenn has become an avid sporting clays shooter.

Captive otters live up to 19 years. When the Chambers’ four previous show otters became too aggressive and unmanageable for performances, they placed them in zoos, but the separations were wrenching for everyone. One otter died not long after leaving. Glenn, a hard-nosed biologist who is not prone to make animals into people, is certain the cause was a broken heart.

“That’s not going to happen again,” said Glenn.“Splash and Slide will stay with us until they die of old age.”

Splash’s last program marked the end of an era, but it coincided with the start of a new one. The intensive restoration effort for which the Chambers’ otters were poster children has succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Missourians now routinely see otters in the wild, something that was impossible 20 years ago.

“It has been a good run,” said Glenn. “We’ll miss the smiles and laughter of the crowds, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing we played a part in an important story."

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