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Maymont lands "Explorer"

Otters Steal the Show

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Pandora and Neptune, the Maymont nature center's frisky river otters, will make their national television debut April 23 on "National Geographic Explorer."

Host Boyd Matson and about 10 "Explorer" crew were at the Robins Nature and Visitors Center earlier this month to shoot segments for a show on river wildlife. Besides interacting with Pandora and Neptune, Matson also handled two rat snakes in the Japanese Garden, but it was the otters who stole the show.

Shannon Wyatt, Maymont's assistant director of animal habitats and exhibits, says Pandora, a 1-year-old Virginia female, and Neptune, her platonic, 3-year-old male companion from Florida, quickly won over the "Explorer" crew with their inquisitive antics. Pandora played with camera tripods and "tried to run off" with other equipment, Wyatt says. And when part of the "Explorer" crew's camera accidentally came apart under water, she and Neptune "just rounded up this equipment and brought it to me."

The keen-witted mammals were never in any danger of indigestion: "They knew it wasn't food," Wyatt says. He adds that the otters — webbed-limb creatures 4 feet long and weighing about 25 pounds — are highly attuned to foreign objects in the habitat they have called home since Thanksgiving and don't confuse man-made objects for the minnows and other fare on which they feed.

"They're incredibly fast and have no problem catching live minnows," he says. Wyatt adds Matson and the large "Explorer" production crew didn't damage the otters' habitat and did "nothing too stressful on the animals."

"I found them to be very, very pleasant and extra-concerned with how they impacted the location where they were shooting," he says. "These people were just fantastic."

They're certainly experienced. In its 13th season, "Explorer" is the longest-running cable TV documentary program. The show, which now appears at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday on CNBC, is headquartered at the National Geographic Society's offices in Washington, D.C., where "Explorer" producers learned about the new Maymont nature center in a Washington Post article.

Maymont spokesman Kate Peeples says the nature center also has been featured in Southern Living magazine and attendance has surpassed expectations. "Incredibly popular," she says. "It hasn't stopped since we opened."

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