Otter spotted in wetlands waters

Critter not seen in these parts for a century; sighting shows restoration projects working

George Frazier and his daughter, Chloe, captured a northern river otter on film at the Baker Wetlands on Friday. The species was last seen in Douglas County in 1904. The Lawrence father and daughter are pictured on Tuesday at the wetlands just south of Lawrence.

George Frazier and his daughter, Chloe, were walking along a path near the Baker University Wetlands when they noticed some odd animal tracks.

“There was a lot of snow along the creek,” he said. “We looked and saw sort of a Morse code pattern, where you get a slide and then some footprints and another slide.”

With permission from Baker University, the software engineer for Cadence Design Systems set up some wildlife cameras to catch a glimpse of the animal.

“We got a bunch of pictures of coyotes and beavers and stuff, and on the third night we got a picture of an otter,” said Frazier, who is writing a book on Kansas wildlife.

What he found was a northern river otter, which hasn’t been seen in Douglas County for more than 100 years, state wildlife officials said Tuesday.

Frazier said the otter population was almost “wiped out” in the 1700s and 1800s when the “fur trapping trade was at its peak.”

In the early 1980s, “Kansas acquired 17 otters and released them in Chase County,” said Mike McFadden, of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. But he suspects that “most otters we see inhabiting the eastern third of Kansas today are dispersing from Missouri,” which has re-established a healthy population of the amphibious mammal.

McFadden said Frazier’s otter most likely migrated from Missouri. “The streams are their highway,” he said. “They’ll follow the streams and mostly feed on fish.”

Otters are also known for their human-like bathroom habits. “They have latrines, so they go to the bathroom in the same place,” said Frazier.

The Baker Wetlands have been the object of a debate on whether they should be preserved or moved to make way for an extension of Kansas Highway 10, the South Lawrence Trafficway. “This is a pretty special place that it can have a rare mammal here,” Frazier said.