KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Otto the otter, a "cheerful creature," died on Thursday after getting sick from food that park guests allegedly threw into his enclosure, according to Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Tennessee, where the animal lived.
The 2-year-old otter was transported to a Tennessee animal hospital, but "did not make it," the park said in a Facebook post, adding that his "body could not tolerate" the food thrown into his living area.
"We're deeply saddened to announce that Otto the river otter did not make it," the park, located in Kingsport, wrote. "Otto was beloved by park staff and guests alike. ... He could often be found swimming or playing with toys in his pool, even when it was snowing outside."
At this time, Otto's exact cause of death is still unknown, but a necropsy will be performed to find out, according to the park. Megan Krager, a senior naturalist at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, said more tests are being done.
Krager said losing Otto is "like losing a family member." She said education about how the food adversely affects the animals is very important. The park will consider incorporating this education to their programs for guests, she said. Feeding the animals is still not OK, even though guests may see park rangers and naturalists do so, Krager added. What the park rangers and naturalists feed to the animals is safe for them, while the food from guests may not be, she said.
Krager also said that the park will make sure the signs prohibiting guests from feeding the animals are clearly visible.
"As a reminder, feeding the animals at Bays Mountain Park is strictly prohibited for exactly this reason. Human food is often intolerable and, in this case, even harmful to our animals," the park said. "Please follow all posted park rules, including the signs that say not to feed the animals."
The park thanked the public for condolences on Otto's death, and reiterated the importance of education.
"Your outpouring of support for us during this hard time is very much appreciated," the park said in another Facebook post displaying more images of Otto. "The best thing you can do for the park and for Otto's memory is to calmly, kindly educate one another on the dangers of feeding wildlife. That goes for any wild animals--not just the ones at parks and zoos like ours."
Otto came to the park as a 9-month-old pup in October 2017 from a rehabilitation facility in North Carolina, according to the park. The facility cared for Otto and his sibling after they lost their parents in a flood.
"The hope was to release them back into the wild, but the pups had lost their fear of humans, so Otto found a new home with us at Bays Mountain Park," the park wrote. His two siblings are at another facility, Krager said.
Many people on social media also expressed their outrage over Otto's death.
One user commented on the park's Facebook post, saying she hoped there would be some means employed to "apprehend those responsible," adding that "We are so sorry for this terrible occurrence."
"If, indeed, it was a group of School children or any child responsible, they ought to be informed of the consequences of their actions; that quite possibly an animal died as a result of their irresponsible behavior," she wrote. "If it is an adult or group of adults, there's no excuse. Let them be charged, fined and banned from this facility permanently."
Another user also voiced her anger in a comment.
"This truly breaks my heart. Me and my children were just there yesterday watching Otto. We actually talked to a staff member about him for awhile," she wrote. "I am angry at how careless some people can be."
This story was reported from Los Angeles.