Otter Sanctuary, Buckfastleigh

Way back in September, Mae and I sat down to construct our ultimate Devon bucket list. We had a lot of fun doing it but as soon as we declared it finished we promptly forgot all about it and so precisely nothing got checked off last term.

This weekend, we decided to change that. The Otter & Butterfly Sanctuary in Buckfastleigh has been on my to-do list ever since I discovered it existed, and on Saturday morning we were up bright and early to head down there in time for otter feeding time.ย Right next to the sanctuary is another of Devon’s tourist highlights, the South Devon railway, where we parked. It was very vintage.

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The butterflies are in hibernation this time of year so it’s just otters out and about, but that wasย moreย than fine by us.

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When we first went in the sanctuary seemed more or less deserted and we were a bit worried, but we soon stumbled across some otters and then we were officially greeted by the lovely Tim, who is the keeper of the place and our tour guide for the morning. He took us to see Felix and Jasmine, two Asian otters, and instantly made my day by letting us shake hands with them.ย Their little paws were softer than I had anticipated and Tim told us that these were the only type they had that don’t have retractable claws – they’re more like little pads.

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Throughout the tour, we not only got to see the otters being fed but we also got to hear all about each little otter family and their backstories. Many of the otters there are rescued – Felix, for example, was previously being kept in Battersea as an illegal pet.

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The centre runs a rehab program for injured otters that aims to release them into the wild, but some get too tame and so have to stay in the sanctuary. This was the case for my favourite, Sammy, an Irish otter who is apparently completely tame and put on quite a show for us in the underwater viewing area!

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This guy, Rocky, was definitely the most photogenic. He lives with his mother Ontario, who is 26 (equivalent to 100 in our years!) and apparently he completely looks after her and is completely adorable to boot.

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At the end of the tour Mae got a special treat and was allowed to go into the enclosure and feed Splash, which is obviously the coolest thing ever.

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As well as confirming my belief that otters are the cutest animals around, I actually learnt so much at the centre and Tim does such a good job with all the otters – it’s lovely to see how much he cares about them! It’s just ยฃ5 to visit the centre and it’s so so worth it, not least because all the money goes to the rehabilitation programme, breeding programme, and general upkeep of the otters and their homes. If you’re in the area or planning to visit Devon anytime soon, I can’t recommend it enough. You can check out their website here for opening times and so on, and it’s such a great way to spend a morning/afternoon. If you’re a real otter fan, you can also do the “otter experience” where you get to join Tim on his zoo-keeping duties for the morning which sounds great fun (although is possibly not for the squeamish – some of the otters are fed dead chicks…). It was a perfect way to kick off the bucket list in earnest, and reminded us all what a fab place Devon is!

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