Barn Hill Preserve organizes guided encounter tours, lets its visitors hang out with sloths, and… swim with otters. That’s right, if you’re stressed out from working long hours or the mundane routine that is everyday life and are thinking to yourself, “What could make me feel more relaxed?” Chilling with Asian small-clawed otters in a pool is the answer.
The participants must be at least 16 years and are required to sign a waiver before their experience. “We are a federally licensed facility in Ethel, Louisiana. Our otter swims are a very limited experience as we don’t provide many,” the President/CEO of Barn Hill Preserve, John “Gabe” Ligon, told Bored Panda. “The swim experience includes a tour of the preserve which includes African servals, red kangaroos, and a climate-controlled sloth exhibit.”
The otter swim portion of the tour includes time for changing clothes, orientation, and swimming with the otters. It lasts for approximately 1 hour. The average time otters swim in the pool is 35 minutes. The number of otter swims is limited so that this remains a very positive experience for them.
However, the preserve does much more. “We also provide a home for animals, including a large group of free-flying macaws,” Ligon said. “These macaws have lifespans of up to 80 years and possess intelligence that compares with human toddlers. We help these birds learn to fly so they can live out their 80 years in the Louisiana countryside. We hope that seeing these birds fly in a flock, will inspire people to help protect their wild cousins, who are rapidly losing land to human development. Some animals are owner surrenders, while others are planned acquisitions from Federally licensed facilities.”
Coming back to the otter swim, the activity is only scheduled once per day and only a few days per week. “Guests enter the pool, and the otters are introduced for playtime. If they want to play with enrichment toys on the deck, that’s their choice. Our otters are never forced to do anything, the entire experience is completely positive,” Ligon explained.
Interestingly, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter species in the world. It inhabits mangrove swamps and freshwater wetlands in the South and Southeast Asia and lives in extended family groups with only the alpha pair breeding; offspring from previous years help to raise the young.
Due to ongoing habitat loss, pollution, and hunting in some areas, the Asian small-clawed otter is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.