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Otter on the lam: Kitchi escapes, evades authorites for five days

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Escape is tough for a lot of zoo animals, since they stand out in urban environments like sore elephants.

But because otters are indigenous to Colorado, not to mention small, quick and wily, they have a fighting chance to frustrate would-be captors -- which once-and-future Cheyenne Mountain Zoo resident Kitchi has managed to do since his escape from the Colorado Springs attraction last Thursday. He even got away after being trapped in a culvert with a robotic camera vehicle at one end and a safe trap at the other.

Zoo spokesman Sean Anglum says tips continue to be phoned in to a special otter hotline, adding that a crew is currently out beating the bushes in response to the latest alleged sighting. But as of right now, Anglum concedes, "Kitchi is still missing."

How did Kitchi bust out?

"There's a metal crimp that holds our mesh to the frame in the otters' outdoor exhibit," Anglum says. "And one of those crimps failed, creating an opening about three to four inches across. Our otters, being as inquisitive as they are, started working on that mesh hole, and because it gives a little, not being rigid bars, they were able to open it enough to slip out."

Four otters tasted freedom, but three were recaptured on zoo grounds. Not Kitchi, though. He was sighted on Friday, and tracks were identified on Saturday about half a mile away. That led searchers to a culvert on the golf course at the Broadmoor Hotel and what seemed likely to be a quick capture.

As if.

"We were able to blockade one end of the culvert and put a safe cage trap on the other end," Anglum recalls. "We were hoping he would go in, but he was being very stubborn and didn't. So we asked our friends at Colorado Springs Utilities to use one of their wheeled robotic camera vehicles. We put it in on the barricaded end and ran it down, and we did have another sighting of him in the culvert.

"Unfortunately, there was a lot of debris in there, and the robot wasn't able to roll much closer than about twenty feet of him, or to get him to go all the way into the cage at the other end."

By Friday evening, with a sizable snowstorm in progress, the various members of the otter squad decided to pull out, thinking that Kitchi would be waiting for them the next morning. But no. "There were some rusted-out parts of that culvert," Anglum says, "and he seems to have slipped through one of them and somehow got away."

Since then, zoo personnel haven't seen Kitchi again, and tips to the otter line (719-648-7348) have yet to bear fruit. So at this point, it's a waiting game -- and Anglum is hopeful Kitchi will be just fine until he returns home.

"The weather's not going to affect him at all," he maintains. "They move toward water, so he's probably moving either toward ponds or lakes that are stocked with fish, or some of the creeks that run through Colorado Springs. Right now, the main danger is for koi and ornamental fish."

Damn straight. Because Kitchi's not going back without a fight -- or a last supper as an unconfined otter.

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