Hartbeespoort couple writes about their adventures with a rescued otter

Hartbeespoort couple, Danelle and Brendan Murray, founders of the Owl Rescue Centre, have just released a book about their adventures with an otter named Lazarus that they rescued in 2019, and their not so easy journey to return the otter, that was scared of water, to its natural habitat and freedom.

Danelle Murray and Lazarus

“In September 2019, we were asked to rehabilitate, release and monitor a captive raised four-year-old Cape clawless otter called Lazarus, who had been rescued as a cub but remained in captivity until our intervention. The process of his release inspired us to write a book about our experiences, which was released last week,” says Danelle. “The release of an otter is a complicated process and we experienced a few unexpected obstacles, one being that Lazzy was afraid of water!” The Murrays was however, not daunted despite the negative prophecies of critics, and eventually taught Lazarus to swim.

“When we met him, he was very tame. He had a fear of completely submerging himself in water and would not enter deep water. He had no exposure to open or large bodies of water. This was a serious problem for an otter that we intended to re-introduce into the wild. We were fully prepared that the release may not be possible and that there would be many obstacles to overcome. The transition from captivity to the wild would be huge in this case. We could not find any other supporting data of an otter of this age being successfully re-introduced into the wild. We were determined to give it a try and put methods in place to overcome each difficulty. We slowly managed to desensitise him and help him overcome his fear of water, and he would later spend most of his day swimming in the river.”

This was accomplished by placing his food first into a small body of water and by taking him for daily swims (approximately 6 hours per day) in the river. “With every passing day, his confidence in the water grew and his reactions and behaviour became more identical to a wild otter.”

It was a long journey, but finally Lazarus could be released in a natural habitat along the Crocodile River. “Another Cape clawless otter (presumably female) has been spotted in the nearby vicinity and our hope is that they would possibly pair up.” The Murrays documented the journey on a daily basis and thousands of animal lovers followed the journey on the organisation’s Facebook page and the idea for a book was born.

Return to the Wild was launched at Bryanston Country Club last week and is already on its second print run. “The original idea of a book about Lazarus was to put a photo journal together of all the events during his release process. After some consideration, we realised that there was far too much to be said about each of those captured moments, and that mere captions would not do a story of this kind justice. In working with Lazarus, we gained so much knowledge, perspective and insight into the Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis) as a species and came to the believe that it was our duty of sorts to write about our experience. Through this book, we hope to encourage the protection and conservation of all otter species. Achieving this would be the highest honour we could wish for.”

Danelle says that the essence of the book deals with change and adapting to a new environment.

“This is relevant to us all in this time; we had to learn to adapt to a new way of living due to the COVID-19 virus. “We are absolutely stunned by the support we are seeing for this book. Lazzy’s story captured the imaginations of people across South Africa and the world. The book will release in England, America and Canada later this year.