Grandfather Mountain mourns the loss of river otter Luna

Last Updated on April 17, 2020 6:45 am

Grandfather Mountain is mourning the passing of Luna, one of its resident — and most popular — river otters.

Luna died Wednesday, April 15, following surgery to address a chronic infection. She was 10 years old. In the wild, river otters live to around 8 or 9 years old and 15 to 20 years in captivity.

“Luna was such an amazing otter,” said Christie Tipton, chief habitats curator for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville, N.C., nature preserve. “She loved doing backflips in the pond, swimming with guests on the other side of the glass in the underwater viewing area and showing all the other otters who was boss.”

Luna came to live on Grandfather Mountain in November 2010, when she was eight months old. She was discovered at only five weeks old in a private backyard near Lincoln County, N.C.

“No one knows what happened to her mother or why she came to be there all alone,” Tipton said.

The young pup had only just learned to start opening her eyes when she was taken to a licensed rehabilitator in nearby Lincolnton. There, she spent the next seven months learning how to swim, dry off and eat solid foods.

A couple of months after arriving at Grandfather, she was introduced to the park’s other resident otters, including Nottoway, described by Tipton as “the sweet, easygoing guy of the bunch.” She and Nottoway became fast friends and lived together in the otter habitat for three years. Before Nottoway passed away in 2019, Luna would also share the habitat with the younger, more mischievous otter, Oscar, who eventually became her best friend.

In the otter habitat, Luna was easy for visitors to spot, as she would tirelessly perform backflips in her pond. During wintertime, she enjoyed swimming under the ice and sliding down snowbanks on her belly.

Luna was also a quick learner, Tipton added, noting that she was the first otter at Grandfather to learn how to present her paw through the fence for veterinary check-ups.

“Luna will be greatly missed by everyone, from her best friend, Oscar, to her keepers and her adoring fans,” Tipton said. “Her vibrant energy always made everyone smile.”

She is survived by her adoptive siblings, Nova, Oscar and Uno. 

The Bear Necessities

Since Grandfather Mountain is temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the park is accepting donations to aid in the care of its resident animals, all of whom were either orphaned or injured in the wild or born into captivity before arriving at Grandfather, meaning they’re unfit for release into the wild.

To contribute, visit

The animals also have an wish list, featuring food, toys and supplies. Donors can choose a gift for their favorite animal, purchase it online, and have it delivered straight to Grandfather Mountain for immediate enjoyment by their furry or feathered friends. The list of suggested items is available at

The not-for-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call 800-468-7325 or visit

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