A new animal has joined the Virginia Tech community. About one month ago, an otter naturally swam upstream into the Virginia Tech Duck Pond and has remained there since.
Otters are indigenous to the Stroubles Creek water systems said Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech.
“In essence, it's the same as the ducks, and the birds and everybody else who calls the duck pond it's home,” Owczarski said.
Virginia Tech doesn’t have any plans to get involved with the otter.
“The university is allowing the natural habitat to do what it normally does,” Owczarski said. “The otter is there and if the otter decides to go, it will go on its own accord ... this is nature in action is the easiest way to describe it.”
When the news of the otter appeared on the Virginia Tech Instagram account, more than 8,900 likes appeared in less than 24 hours according to The Roanoke Times, making it one of the most popular posts in the five-year history of the account.
Someone even created a Twitter for the otter this past week.
Fairen Horner, Virginia Tech social media manager, said to The Roanoke Times that Virginia Tech’s licensing department began a flash order of shirts with the phrase “Otter Sandman” on it due to a comment on the Instagram post.
Owczarski said these shirts are not Virginia Tech property per se, but someone is working with the university to make t-shirts about something that has made lots of people happy, which is the otter.
“People just kind of saw it and reacted to it very positively,” Owczarski said. “Very similar to things like ‘horse on a treadmill’ –– people just found a lot of joy in knowing that an otter is kind of hanging out at the Duck Pond for a while, and there was somebody who wanted to make t-shirts about it.”
However, while lots of people are heading over to the Duck Pond to spot the otter, the university has some advice for when people see it.
Jim Parkhurst, professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech, told The Roanoke Times that feeding the animal regularly will cause it to develop a poor diet, and people should take caution because the otter is a wild animal with unpredictable behavior.
Moreover, Parkhurst, whose research, teaching and extension activities revolve around studying the relationships and interactions between wildlife and humans, said the otter will most likely not come too close to people. People should avoid getting too close to it as well, for their own and the otter’s safety.
Finally, Owczarski said that the advice the university would give is to truly respect nature and give nature its space.
“Anytime that people come in contact with nature, we need to be mindful of their needs,” Owczarski said. “So we just encourage people to allow the otter to live as the otter lives, and respect that space with a wild animal.”