New Otter, Who Dis? Introducing Piper!

Photo of river otter Piper     In honor of World Otter Day, we are otterly excited to officially introduce our North American River Otter, Piper! She came to us from the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and we are so thrilled for everyone to get to know her. She joined our current resident, Luani, on exhibit at the end of March 2023, and we cannot wait to see how their relationship continues to grow. Read her bio below to learn more about her and be sure to come out to see our otters in person at the zoo!


Photo of river otter PiperAbout Me

  • Name: Piper
  • Species: North American River Otter
  • Age: 8 years
  • Nickname: Pipes
  • My significant otter: Luani



Photo of river otter PiperMy Interests

  • Favorite food: Small fish like capelin, sprat, and smelt
  • Favorite enrichment: My turtle kiddie pool filled with pine shavings so I can roll in them
  • Favorite hobby: Kick out all of the bedding that I’m given in my nest by my keepers to make sure they have plenty to clean up the next day
  • Favorite nap spot: Either in the log in the front of our habitat or under the rock cave, if I feel like kicking Luani out of it


Photo of river otter PiperEducation & Experience?

  • Education: I’m a super quick learner, and I’m eager to learn new behaviors because I love to train!
  • Skills: I love to be vocal!
  • Behaviors: Target
  • In progress behaviors: Perfecting my open mouth behavior and learning to station
  • Best piece of advice: Life is too short; don’t be afraid to say what you feel!
  • Future plans: Looking forward to meeting new people; sign up today for your chance to meet me and my significant otter, Luani, in a private encounter!



     Because Piper and Luani are an approved breeding pair through their Species Survival Plan (SSP), we are hoping in the future to be able to welcome more otters to the Lehigh Valley Zoo. For now, we are enjoying getting to know Piper and watching her budding relationship with Luani blossom. Stop by the Otter Stadium to see them in person and to help them celebrate World Otter Day!

Written by Natalie Hildebrand
Lead Conservation Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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For Healthier Soil, Healthier Food…Compost!

Educators Tara (left) and Emily (right) hold up informational decals to be installed on a compost tumblerHappy International Compost Awareness Week! This year the Compost Research and Education Foundation (CREF) and the International Compost Alliance partnered to create the theme for Compost Awareness Week: hunger. They chose it because it is a problem that people around the world face. How does that relate to compost though? Read on and let us talk dirt to you!


What is compost?

   The National Resources Defense Council defines composting as “the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants.” Basically, we turn food scraps and yard waste into what farmers call “black gold” because of the amount of nutrients in it.


Why is composting the Ultimate Recycle?

Cover - Kiss the Ground narrated by Woody Harrelson

   Because of the way that we farm, we have been causing a lot of land degradation and need to start working to regenerate our soil so that we can help protect our planet because our lives depend on it. If you want to learn more about why healthy soil is important, check out the documentary “Kiss the Ground” on Netflix for an inspiring look at how we can help save Earth’s soil. According to the CREF, “recycling organics into compost and using it on our farmlands… create[s] healthy soils that produce healthier food and higher yields. It also reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticides, improves water quality and conserves water, as well as stores carbon in soil – helping to reduce climate change.”


But who can compost?

A giant gingerbread person cranks the arm of a compost tumbler    Anyone can compost! We even compost at the Lehigh Valley Zoo using a tumbler compost bin in Preston’s Place, our native backyard habitat. For our Browns (the items that add carbon), we use yard waste like dead leaves and branches from maintaining Preston’s gardens. For our Greens (the organic items that add nitrogen), we can use food scraps from our animal diets that our keepers add to the tumbler as well as spent coffee grounds from Bird Friendly Coffee brewed by our Education department. Composting at the zoo is a team effort! At home, you can compost using a wide variety of different options including indoor or outdoor bins, closed or open bins, taking compostable items to compost drop-off locations if your city has one, or even using worms!


My journey to composting.

Image of a green and black compost tumbler    Inspired by the compost program we started at the zoo, I realized that there was an easy solution to two problems I had been dealing with. The first problem was that I wanted to decrease the amount of food waste going into my trash and then going to landfills. The second was that the soil quality in my gardens was not great, and my plants were clearly struggling. I began researching what type of bin would work best for my house and decided on a rolling tumbler so that I could be able to roll it to the area I wanted once it was ready, and so that everything was contained during the composting process. My neighbors live close by on all sides of my house, so this was important to me. Once my tumbler came in the mail, I started composting!


Learning curves.

Image of a metal compost container    Something I learned very quickly after starting was that this was going to be an exercise in patience. Filling the tumbler takes time. Then composting takes more time. Fun fact, if you start during the winter, it’s going to take even more time! So I had to keep patiently continuing to add a good mix of Browns and Greens to my bin as I waited for temperatures to warm up. I also learned that when it is cold outside, the chances significantly decrease that I am going to want to walk all the way outside to my composter. This led to me ordering a small, indoor bin to keep next to the kitchen sink. This ensured that no scrap got left behind and everything made it to the bin.


So, what do I do with it?

Image of educator Tara standing with full buckets of compost and soil    Now comes the fun part! You did all the work, made some beautiful compost, but now what? For me, it was easy to figure out what to do with it since I was composting to add it to my garden. Don’t have a use for the compost you’re making because you don’t garden? Not to worry, there are plenty of people who can use it! Check with any of your friends or family who garden, try donating it to local schools or community gardens, or even give it away online. Just because you don’t garden doesn’t mean you can’t help improve the Earth’s soil.



Educator Tara gesturing toward a green compost tumbler with informational and instructional decals affixed to it    Not everyone’s journey to composting is going to be the same. We all live different lives and are in many different living situations, so in order to pick which style of composting works best for your life, be sure to do your research! Someone that lives in an apartment would probably need an indoor bin, but someone that lives in the countryside and has an enormous garden might need to start a large compost pile. Consider connecting with experienced composters in person or online through groups on Facebook or other social media for those times when you hit your own learning curves and could use a little advice. Help reduce food waste and thus reduce methane emissions and join people around the world who are helping to regenerate the Earth’s soil. Make your commitment to help create healthier soil and start composting today!

Written by Tara Mlodzienski
Conservation Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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