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Who did they predict? Otter Bowl XIII brings hundreds to zoo for Groundhog Day-like spectacle

Luani Otter Football.JPG
Jay Bradley
Lehigh Valley Zoo North American river otter Luani selects the Kansas City Chiefs' fish-filled piñata during Otter Bowl XIII on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. — What's your Super Bowl pick? The Lehigh Valley Zoo's otters added their say to a cheering crowd as the region gears up for the big game.

The zoo's annual "Otter Bowl" event brought over 200 onlookers to the otter exhibit on a mild Saturday morning to see which team was favored by otters Luani and Piper.

Waddling out, the otter pair were presented with two football piñatas (full of fish treats of course) — one adorned with the logo of the San Francisco 49ers, and the other with the logo of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Piper, who joined the zoo last March, took a while to figure out the game, while Luani — the only of the two with experience in the "Bowl" — knew just what to do and made a quick tackle of the Chiefs' pinata, ripping it open and bringing it down to the water.

Could this predict a Chiefs victory?

Piper Luani Lehigh Valley Zoo
Jay Bradley
Otters Luani and Piper each selected a different team's Piñata for Saturday's Super Bowl prediction, with Luani selecting the Chiefs for the win first

That's unclear, as Piper eventually made it over to and opened up the 49ers' piñata — alongside the fact that the zoo's otters have a predictive rate of about 35% overall since the event began.

Many of the people who cheered them on were families with young children, excited for a glimpse at the unique twist on a day at the zoo.

Young sisters Lena and Hannah Grube come every year, with Hannah carrying her own otter plushie to the event. They said this was the first time they had seen something resembling a tie.

Otter bowl crowds
Jay Bradley
In part thanks to good weather, hundreds gathered to watch the 13th annual "Otter Bowl" on Saturday morning at the Lehigh Valley Zoo

"We saw this is Piper's first year and I thought that it was really cool," Lena said. "I thought it was kind of funny because she didn't know what was going on. She was like, 'Who are all these people here for?'

"Normally, they both pick the same one when one starts eating and then they start fighting. It's a whole show and it's really funny."

She said she thinks if Luani hadn't taken the Chiefs first, that's the one Piper would have gone for.

The crowd's cheers, however, leaned toward wanting a Niners victory.

A wintertime spotlight on the zoo

Otter Bowl XIII, while inconclusive, served as both a fun event for zoogoers and an opportunity for the zoo to help raise money and get attendance up during its typical slow season.

"To bring in a crowd today of 5, 6, 700 people is very significant for us because we're a year-round zoo and the animals need the same food and the same care whether there are guests in the zoo or not," said Matt Provence, the zoo's chief operating officer.

Staff said they were grateful for the warmer weather Saturday, given how cold the day before the Super Bowl has been in past years.

Onlookers Otter Bowl
Jay Bradley
Families look on to Luani and Piper's Otter Bowl feast

As visitors left the otter exhibit, staff took advantage of the crowd to set up different tables encouraging people to sign up for membership, or to learn more about the animal's biology and lifestyle.

"We are talking about one animal, and we can listen really closely and learn all this stuff about one specific animal," said Emily Poche, a docent educational volunteer.

"And otters are super cool. They're really special. They're this keystone species, but it's really fun for us to get to talk to them and see them interact with their enrichment in a way that's also really cute and amusing. It's the best of both worlds."

During the event, presenter Dani Dimarco gave the crowd trivia about the otters, such as their 11-year lifespan in the wild, that Luani and Piper were a selected-for-breeding pair, and other facts connected to the animals.

The zoo's upcoming events include a Valentine's Day special penguin feeding, and a bird walk to kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count on Saturday, Feb. 17.