She was a young, soon-to-be mother when Momma, one of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium’s original North American River Otters, came to the aquarium. Now, 16 years later, the River Museum family is heartbroken to announce the passing of one of its oldest and most memorable residents, Momma.
Arriving in fall of 2004, Momma, named for her impending motherhood, gave birth to three healthy female pups shortly after joining the aquarium. Her keepers fondly remember watching her hold each pup over a large tub of water to teach them how to swim. She was a natural.
“It was startling to see such young animals being held in the water, but Momma obviously knew what she was doing,” says Abby Urban, Curator of Living Collections. “All three pups nursed and weaned successfully before they were transferred to other Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities.” Momma’s daughter, Sassy, resides at Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines.
Momma was classified as geriatric, estimated to be 19 years of age—well beyond the typical life expectancy of eight or nine years for a wild river otter. “Every loss within our living collection is significant, and none of them are easy,” Urban says. “This loss feels particularly hard when we recognize the number of guests who were able to view and engage with her over the last 16 years at the aquarium.”
Even at the end of her life Momma was spirited and feisty. She had strong opinions regarding her caretakers. Up until her final days, she continued to show staff that she was in charge by dictating when she came on and off exhibit, how her blankets and bedding should be arranged, and what foods she preferred. A week prior to her passing, she even dabbled in some landscaping and dug up a large planter within her habitat.
While Momma’s care team recognized their time with her was limited due to her advanced age, her passing was still unexpected. After a typical, active day, Momma appeared to have passed overnight in her sleep. It was a peaceful end to a spirited life.
Momma is mourned by her care team and all the staff, volunteers, members, and guests who have come to know her over the last 16 years at the aquarium. The public is encouraged to share their pictures and remembrances of Momma on the River Museum’s Facebook page @rivermuseum. Those wishing to support the organization’s conservation efforts in memory of Momma can donate at rivermuseum.com/donate.