Farewell to the Otter Show

The auditorium at Runge Conservation Nature Center brimmed with visitors and buzzed with excitement April 17. The crowd ranged from infants to seniors.

Everyone hushed when the lights dimmed, but when the star of the show, a 4.5-foot-long river otter named Splash, made his appearance, they couldn’t contain their excitement. “Ohs” and squeals of sheer delight filled the room as the veteran performer swam, frolicked and snuggled his way into their hearts.

Supporting actors in this show were Glenn and Jeannie Chambers, who have brought otter mania to Missouri audiences for more than 13 years. For them and many at the Runge Center that April afternoon, the event was tinged with melancholy. This was the last public appearance for the Chambers and their otters.

For Glenn and Jeannie, otter shows have been more than a way to promote conservation. They have been a way of life. Not that they really needed to fill time. Jeannie is a full-time oncology nurse. Glenn’s 35-year career has included stints as a wildlife manager, a research biologist, a cinematographer, a regional director and corporate photographer for Ducks Unlimited and frequent contributor to Audubon, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick and other magazines.

Technically, Glenn retired from the Conservation Department in 1995. However, that hasn’t kept the couple from making films for the National Geographic Society, operating a hunting club and curing dozens of country hams each year. Of all the things they do, however, otters consume the most energy.

They got into the otter business in 1992, but public appearances were not part of the plan. Glenn was working on three films for the Conservation Department. He thought footage of otters would make a good addition to all three, so he spent $2,000 of his own money to buy a four-day-old female otter—its eyes not yet open—from a trapper in Louisiana. He named the tiny ball of fur “Paddlefoot.”

To ensure the baby otter would accept him as its parent, Glenn slept with Paddlefoot for three months. To give Paddlefoot some companionship and reduce demands on their own time, the Chambers bought a second female otter puppy, Babyfoot, in 1993.

Glenn turned their back yard in Columbia into an otter playground and set aside his personal life to a degree that even parents of human children might find excessive.

“Two otters equals five boys any day,” said Glenn, who with Jeannie raised five sons of their own. “These little guys are nonstop, spring-wound. Kids grow