In a project funded by, among others, the Bertarelli Foundation, a new otter pool has opened at La Garenne after six months of work. A first European otter – a female – has been introduced, while a male will join her soon.
The new otter area extends to over 500m² and includes a main basin of about 30 cubic metres, as well as streams with secondary basins. There are also underground areas and a burrow for the otters to shelter, rest or reproduce. Visitors to the zoo will be able to observe the otters in the main basin thanks to a bay window allowing underwater dives to be seen.
This new infrastructure was made possible thanks to the financial support of several foundations involved in nature conservation: the Bertarelli Foundation, Gelbert Foundation, OAK Foundation, Sandoz Foundation and Alfred and Eugénie Baur Foundation.
Despite its popularity, relatively little is known about the European otter and very few have been observed in the wild. Hunting and trapping led to its sharp decline in the 19th century, both for its fur and because it competed with fish. In the 20th century, new factors, such as water pollution, the development of watercourses and the regression of wetlands led to further decline. Despite being named as a protected species in 1952, the otter eventually disappeared from Switzerland.
However, towards the end of the last decade, there were signs of its return to the country. French and Austrian otter populations have been in relatively good health, but the presence of the animal in the Rhone Valley is still rare. Colonization in the country through Austria and the Inn river has, by contrast, been higher, helped by measures taken to restore river banks, reduce water pollution and to protect fish populations.