The exercise routine of an arthritic sea otter at the Oregon Zoo is a slam dunk, followed by slam dunk after slam dunk.
Eddie is 15 years old, which is considered geriatric for the species. After an X-ray last year, arthritis was discovered in the animal's elbow.
The veterinarians prescribed regular exercise as a way to improve joint function, but that presented a challenge for zookeepers.
Sea otters don't use their front limbs to swim, instead using their back legs and flippers. So, workers decided to give basketball a try as a way of working out Eddie's elbows.
It didn't take long for Eddie to get a handle on what basketball is all about.
"He's definitely got game," said Jenny DeGroot, the zoo's lead otter keeper. "Sea otters have incredible dexterity, so it makes sense Eddie would have this hidden talent. They're famous for using rocks as tools to crack open clams."
Eddie rarely misses a slam dunk, according to zoo workers, but even when the ball doesn't bounce his way, he's trained to keep going until he scores a basket.
Eddie and his longtime companion, Thelma, have lived at the Oregon Zoo since 2000, on long-term loan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both otters were rescued off the coast of California, where they had been abandoned as pups in 1998. Lacking the skills to survive on their own in the wild, they were taken to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for rehabilitation, but were eventually deemed nonreleasable.
Visitors won't get a chance to watch Eddie's basketball exploits. His moves on the pseudo court take place off-exhibit, in a behind-the-scenes training pool connected to the zoo's Stellar Cove habitat via underwater tunnel.
Zoo workers think Terry Stotts, head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, might be especially impressed by the hoop skills of Eddie. Stotts majored in zoology at the University of Oklahoma.
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