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River Otter Spotted In Lincoln Park Signals Cleaner Waters

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We haven't seen many of these creatures in the wild around Chicago for decades: the river otter.  

But lately, people have spotted two of them, and that could be a sign of cleaner water in rivers and ponds, CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports.

We hear stories about the comeback of the Chicago River

"It was swimming, looks at us and then all of a sudden right under," said Nick Wesley of Urban Rivers. "We were all in awe, because to us it was an otter."

Wesley is certain he saw emerging from these waters a fast moving rare river otter, a population that by 1970, because of pollution, totaled no more than 100 statewide.

"[We tried] to get phones out but it was fleeting as soon as we saw it was gone," Wesley said his group did when they saw the creature.

It happened where the river bends through Goose Island in Lincoln Park.  That's where Wesley and his non profit Urban Rivers are already building floating habitats to feed and attract more wildlife around the slowly improving river.

One place to see a real otter is the Brookfiled Zoo, where they can tell you a thing or two about efforts to track them.

River otters are spunky, playful mammals who eat carp, frogs and insects. With an improving river providing more of that food, it's possible they're making a return.

"There are definitely otters here but not plentiful enough they are easy to spot," says Amy Roberts of the Brookfield Zoo.

About this time last year a river otter was located in a southern Cook County Forest preserve pond.  It was implanted with a tracking device, and then released back into the wild. There's no evidence that the one that surfaced in the city is the same otter. Cook County Forest Preserve biologists says the otter that was released last year, has apparently traveled from South Holland to the Lemont area.

But Nick Wesley says we ought to believe they could make a comeback.  

"In the next 20 years we went to see these creatures become more commonplace," he said.


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