Houma family fights to free otter from zoo

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 1, 2012 at 7:31 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 1 at 7:31 AM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News

HOUMA, La. -- A Houma family is fighting to free an otter it rescued from the New Orleans Audubon Zoo. The Chaisson family is unhappy with the way the Zoo handled an otter they named "Chip" who needed medical attention.

"He'd come run up and play and try to dry off on you, and look around and it was almost like he was playing tag," said Teddy Chaisson.

Playful, goofy and all out crazy -- that is how Teddy Chaisson and his wife Katina describe the otter they spent weeks nursing back to health.

He was found about a year ago injured in a dumpster by a shrimp dock.

"When we found him, he was this big and fit in both my hands. His legs were hurt in the back and he kind of scooted a little bit," said Katina Bergeron.

Three months after taking the otter in, the family decided to introduce him back into the wild, which is conveniently located behind the Houma family's backyard on Bayou Grand Caillou.

"We would take the fish and throw it in the bayou and say, look, this is where you gotta go. Well, he'd start getting good and actually catch the crabs and then start getting fish," said Bergeron.

"He chirped at the backdoor, let me in, let me in, and he wouldn't stop until you'd give him attention," said Chaisson explaining how the otter would spend time indoors and outdoors.

The family said Chip showed up sick one day, forcing Chaisson to drive the otter to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans for treatment. The family expected he would come back home, but the Zoo won't release him, citing state law.

"We tried seeing what we can do to get him back with us and the zoo pretty much told us, point blank, you dropped off the animal, you didn't want him. You threw him away pretty much, which is definitely not the case," said a frustrated Chaisson.

The zoo and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries maintain returning Chip to the Bayou would be against state law.

"The Chaissons' in a Good Samaritan role did the right thing by bringing that animal to an institution that can care for that animal, but they can not in fact repossess that animal since they're not permitted to keep live wild animals," said Bo Boehringer, spokesman with Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.

Wildlife officials say another concern is potential harm to humans or the animal in their care.

"We continue to remind citizens that wild animals are unpredictable. There is no way for an untrained person to know when an animal may react irregularly and injure or maim or transmit disease to someone that's the concern," added Boehringer in a phone interview with WWL-TV.

"It's not to say he's ours, we're more like his," said Bergeron in response.

This heart broken Terrebone Parish family disagrees and says Chip needs to come home.

"I just want him to live free. It's a good place. It's where he belongs," said Bergeron.

The Chaisson family says it has made attempts to apply for a rehabilitator permit but have been unsuccessful. Boehringer said applying for a permit can take weeks or months, and rehabilitators are required to release animals back into the wild after rehabilitation.

A Zoo spokeswoman said because Chip has been domesticated, the plan now is to send him to an accredited facility where wildlife professionals can introduce him to other otters.

A Facebook page has also emerged in support of Chip & the Chaisson family. Click here to see it.

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