Tourists visiting Long Island often refer to it as a playground. With the region’s proximity to New York City attractions, deep local history, and beach allure, residents sometimes don’t realize what a great place it is to frolic.

There is one resident who really knows what a ball life can be here, with abundant diverse food, wide open spaces to play in, and plenty of places to swim in. He keeps to himself for the most part and frankly left us for a period of time not so long ago, but he is back and enjoying life on Long Island more than most. I am talking about the river otter.

Otters were a fixture on our LI landscape when our European forefathers landed many centuries ago, but the two didn’t get along very well. The luxurious pelts of this semi-aquatic mammal were a valuable “resource” to the early settlers. Trappers quickly decimated the numbers here and the otters that survived retreated north to get away from the trapper’s jaws and our growing communities.

Since the 1800s they haven’t been connected to Long Island, but in the last few decades they have slowly returned. They are rarely seen however, spending the vast majority of their time in the water. When spotted from afar, they can be mistaken for many other more common fauna like muskrats. But they are here, and their jovial nature makes them one of the most animated characters around.

Confined primarily to the North Shore and the East End, otters need only to be left alone to flourish. Although babies may have multiple predators, otters’ worst enemies are automobiles as these animals are roamers, often moving nocturnally, and they become victims. Their secretive nature is evident as road kills are often the unfortunate way to estimate their numbers.

Although I was born in Manhattan, I grew up on Long Island, living in several different places over my years. I have seen otters in many places in America, including the Amazon, but never here in my own backyard. It warms my heart to think that young ones, fiercely guarded by their family, are actively playing somewhere Out East, playfully loving life as they all do.

If you want to see one, please don’t go stomping around the ponds Out East: Leave them be! But do take a page out of their book. Go enjoy the day with your family and find your playful side at the Bronx Zoo or Atlantis Marine World to see for yourself. Otters have their priorities straight and life figured out!

Jungle Bob’s Reptile World is located at 984 Middle Country Rd. in Selden. They can be reached at junglebobsreptileworld.com 631-737-6474.

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