About Us About Us

Oscar & Andy

Oscar and Andy were our playful residents at Union Federal from August 5, 1991 until September 19, 2010.  Each were a joy to watch and provided many wonderful memories for the staff of Union Federal, our customers, children of the community, and other visitors from near and far.  During their lives they helped educate our community on clean water and conservation.  Both Oscar and Andy brought an unusual but charming aspect to Kewanee.  At this time we will not be replacing the otters, but we are keeping their exhibit area open as a water feature.


Oscar & Andy from the Beginning

Oscar and Andy arrived in Kewanee on August 5, 1991. They came from Theriot, Louisiana which is located on the Gulf of Mexico. The population of river otters is abundant in that region of the United States. They were approximately 1 1/2 years old when they came to Kewanee. Local area school children named the animals through an environmental essay contest. During their time at Union Federal they delighted thousands of people. One of the highlights for the Association was conducting group tours of our facility featuring Oscar and Andy.  During the tours, we provided an opportunity for people to learn about the animals and how important it is to keep our environment clean and safe for all who live on this earth.

These friendly, playful animals served as a reminder that although we and those who visit us are engaged in serious financial matters, we owe it to ourselves to take a few minutes now and then to lighten up and enjoy ourselves.

As the poet W. H. Davies put it, "What is life if full of care, we have not time to stop and stare?" One way we used to do that was to pause occasionally to watch the amusing antics of our two little friends.

North American River Otter

The river otter is a member of the weasel family, which includes such familiar species as mink, badger, and skunk. Highly adapted to aquatic life, the otter's, long streamlined body and powerful tapered tail enable it to swim and move with strength and speed. Short, strong legs and fully webbed feet further enhance its swimming ability. Its head is relatively small, broad and flat, with small ears that are closed when underwater, a large nose pad and stiff, sensitive whiskers which help it to detect food underwater. The otter's eyes are small and located high on its head, which allows it to swim low in the water with only the top of its head above the surface. Its short, thick fur is a rich brown color and serves as an insulating layer by trapping air when the animal is submerged. The otter's ability to conserve oxygen allows it to stay underwater for up to 4 minutes at a time. Adult otters may be as much as four feet in length, with the tail accounting for nearly a third of their total length. Their weight averages 15 pounds among adult females, and up to 25 pounds for an adult male.

The range of the river otter includes most of the U.S. and Canada, and it was once common in most of North America and widely distributed throughout Illinois as well, but was scarce in most parts of the state by the late 1800's. In Illinois, the river otter has a sporadic distribution, with recent records from 32 counties, but a well-established population in only the northwest corner of the state. There are also smaller populations in southern Illinois, particularly along the Cache River system. Many of the other records probably represent dispersing or wandering individuals, rather than permanent populations of otters.

Though they can spend much of their time on land, river otters are always found near water. As their name implies, they are generally found near rivers and streams, but they also live in sloughs, marshes, and lakes. They tend to be found in higher densities in waters that also have adjacent wetlands and backwaters. Otters require year-round open water and densely wooded cover nearby, particularly those which provide suitable den sites in stream banks or under the roots of trees. Because of their denning habits, otters are often found in areas which also have a high beaver population. Otters are very sensitive to pollution and are not found in areas of poor water quality, though they may use waters which are murky rather than clear if the water quality is otherwise good. River otters require large amounts of suitable habitat, requiring 3 square miles or as much as 50-100 river miles of habitat.

River otters have only a single litter of young per year, beginning at 2 years of age. Otters can have up to 6 young (called pups) at a time, but litters usually consist of only 2-4 pups, born in the early spring. Otter pups stay with their mothers during their first year, and have to be taught to swim. River otters use dens for resting, sleeping, and rearing their young. They do not dig their own dens, but use old beaver dens, tree root cavities, overhanging ledges, or logjams.

Like most carnivores, the river otter is an opportunist when it comes to food. They catch primarily fish, but will also catch crayfish, large insects and frogs. They tend to consume whatever will give them the most energy for the least effort, so more abundant, slow-moving, mid-sized prey items will be taken more often than fast, uncommon, or tiny prey. Though otters are sociable and can be found in family groups, they are territorial, particularly during the breeding season. Otters, like other members of the weasel family, have musk glands near the base of their tails, and will mark their territory using this scent. Otters will frequently travel great distances, and though they are awkward on land, they readily go overland to get from one river to another. Because of this, a number of river otters are accidentally killed while crossing roads. Otters are known as active, playful, inquisitive animals. Much of their "play" is really a way of developing good coordination and maintaining social contact in a family group. Due to their secretive nature, river otters are seldom seen by people.

With settlement of this continent, the increasing human population brought about considerable loss and degradation of the otter's habitat due to agricultural activities, stream pollution and channelization, and urbanization. Excessive, unregulated harvest of this valuable furbearer further reduced its populations, and by the 19th century, its range and numbers in North America had shrunk significantly. It ceased to be important in the Illinois fur trade by about 1900, and was considered to be nearly, if not completely, extinct from the state by 1943. The trapping season for the otter was closed in Illinois in the late 1920's, and has not been opened since. It was listed as a threatened species in Illinois with the adoption of the first state endangered and threatened species lists in 1977, and changed to state endangered status in 1989. In 1999, otters were removed from the Illinois endangered species list.

Despite a continuous closed season since 1929, river otter populations in Illinois have remained low. Improvement of stream conditions and protection of large tracts of riparian habitat will be needed if the river otter population is to recover in Illinois. Though surviving otter populations may be gradually increasing, repopulation of much of its former Illinois range will be long delayed due to the slow rate of reproduction in this animal. Many states have conducted reintroduction programs to bring the otter back to its former range; in 1994, Illinois also began to release river otters into areas where they formerly occurred. In combination with habitat protection and water quality improvement, it is hoped that this effort will enhance the return of the river otter to Illinois waters. For more information, please visit the River Otter Alliance.