Aquascape’s Ed Beaulieu designed and installed a unique Otter Pond for Blake’s Exotic Animal Ranch near Southwest Ranches, Fla. The project included a constructed wetland filter and rainwater harvesting system designed to boost filtration for animal use and conserve water – and a viewing area where visitors get up close and personal with the playful residents.
By Ed Beaulieu
Designing and installing habitats for exotic, endangered or otherwise special animal species requires understanding both the pond-craft required the animals’ needs. That was the challenge at hand when we created an interactive otter pond at Blake’s Exotic Animal Ranch in Florida.
This marks my fourth animal water feature collaboration with popular YouTuber, Blake Kaldirimoglu, who owns a collection of exotic animals. The first was a standard fish pond, the second served as a home for capybaras and ducks, the third was an aviary pond, and now this latest effort is home to river otters.
I designed the otter pond with a 1,500-gallon rainwater harvesting system to replicate a flooded forest, which is the typical habitat of the small-clawed, southeast Asian otter.
A shallow, pooling stream connects to the 15-by-15-foot pond to provide opportunity for the otters to swim and explore. A constructed wetland filter was incorporated to clean and improve water quality for regular animal use.
The pond was built three to four feet above grade using soil and stone material to accommodate up-close viewing of the otters while they move above and below the water. We added a 5,000-lb. pre-cast structural wall with a large viewing window on one end of the pond so that visitors can watch the underwater activity of the otters from a custom sunken seating area.
The challenge of this particular water feature was to create a highly filtrated and interactive environment that engages all sensory functions of the otter. Otters are prone to disease when they become bored. They’re climbers as well as swimmers, so a small portion of a fallen tree and logs were added to the stream, so there’s plenty of opportunity to move around and stay healthy.
We included a waterfall to move and aerate the water, and especially to stimulate the otters. They’re very inquisitive and will climb over everything and inspect the crevices which are home to crayfish and other small crustaceans that will supplement their diets and stimulate their natural curious behaviors. We found a smooth slab and used it to create small slip-n-slide because the otters are also very playful and energetic.
The system includes a separate 1,500-gallon retention pond containing 50 Aquabox units and system pumps. It’s designed to hold the water in motion – three-inches of water across the surface of the pond and all of the water in the waterfalls – when the system is off. Pumps draw filtered water from the retention pond push it up through an under-gravel upwelling return system using up-flow constructed wetland snorkels, snorkle vault and Centipede Modules.
The idea is to keep the water crystal clear, for the health of the otters and the viewing pleasure of visitors.
Even though much of the pond is built up above grade, we still needed to excavate three to four feet so the pond has adequate depth for the otters, which are first and foremost aquatic mammals and need ample room to swim. We also created a sunken viewing area with a large “seat rock” slab.
Much of the installation took place on Day 4 of the project when 170 people from pond companies throughout Florida showed to both learn and assist in the installation process.
In addition to the otter pond at Blake’s Exotic Animal Ranch, I have designed numerous animal water features including habitats at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Brevard County Zoo in Florida, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, indoor and outdoor turtle ponds across the country, a reptile pond for YouTuber Kenan Harkin in Florida, a mink pond for YouTuber Joe Cotter in Utah, and more.
It’s always satisfying when our ponds become part of a healthy and enjoyable permanent home for many of nature’s most fascinating and precious creatures.
Since this habitat was completed, word is the otters, and their visitors, couldn’t be happier.
Ed Beaulieu is chief sustainability officer for Aquascape, Inc. He has designed and built built hundreds of custom-designed ponds from small backyard water gardens to large lakes, commercial water features, and zoological exhibits. He holds a B.S. in Zoology, with an emphasis in Limnology, and concentrated his master’s studies in Marine Biology.
ABOUT RIVER OTTERS
River otters are a water-loving member of the weasel family. They weigh 15-30 pounds, are usually dark brown, and have long and narrow bodies. River otters can be found throughout Florida, except for the Keys, and are most often seen in or near water. They are powerful swimmers and eat a wide variety of prey including crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, insects and small mammals.
River otters are a valuable furbearer resource worldwide and play an important role in Florida’s ecosystems as a top predator in their habitats. River otters can occasionally create a nuisance by eating fish in hatcheries and stocked ponds, or by digging dens in pond banks.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.