In 2014, I was looking for wildlife sanctuaries and rescues to connect within Southern California when a colleague told me about animal care specialists, Kevin and Wendy Yates. Wendy, daughter of an ornithologist and Kevin, an animal behaviorist with San Diego Zoo Global, created a non-profit animal sanctuary in Valley Center, CA. After a wildfire destroyed their home in 2003, the community poured with love and kindness and they felt the urge to give back in the best way they knew how: Create an animal center to promote conservation and increase connections between humankind and nature. They named it, Nurtured by Nature.

After I learned their story and got to know them a little more, I observed their programs and the operations of their facility. I quickly became a big fan of the Yates and their mission.

Their decades of experience in caring for and training river otters allows the Yates to safely introduce outsiders to the romp, and let them swim with the otters. Not only do visitors enjoy it, but the otters also seem to enjoy them as enrichment as well.


Though swims are offered to the public, their mission is to, “provide solace in times of misfortune or trouble.” Make-a-Wish families will be the first to say that it has improved their loved one’s outlook and trauma and after swimming with these charismatic creatures, I’d have to agree. The meaningful and impactful interactions between humans and otter ambassadors are much like those offered with dolphin interaction programs for children with terminal illnesses and those who suffer from emotional trauma like, PTSD.

My joyful experience happened while filming a small commercial for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Of course, it is always difficult to film anything with animals, the otters were no exception. They are very hyper, tactile animals that follow each other like baby ducks. This of course made for a few funny bloopers.

But when Wendy went through her GoPro footage weeks later, she found the diamond in the rough. She posted the 32-second clip on her personal page with no tags, and called it, “Otter Happiness.” The next day, the video had over 30,000 views! By the end of the week, it was everywhere. After being shared by Buzzfeed, Huffpost, Mashable, Reddit, (and many more, thanks to everyone for sharing!) at the time of this post it stands at just under a million views on YouTube and just under 3 million views on Facebook.

After seeing the overwhelming love for otters, I decided it was time to start a life-long dream of connecting people to wildlife through unique and meaningful experiences. Arne Adventures was created. My team partnered with Nurtured by Nature to offer a VIP tour and swim with their otter ambassadors which we called, “Otterly Amazing Contest.”

After thousands of likes, tags, and shares, I am happy to announce that Natasha Hart was randomly selected as the winner. You can watch a video of her receiving the news here, her reaction is priceless! Like all of you, Natasha is a huge otter-lover gushing about how she can’t wait to learn more about otter and water conservation. My hope is that Natasha will share her experience and new knowledge with her networks, creating more wildlife warriors to make this world a better place for plants, animals, and humans. Make sure to keep your eyes out for the next Arne Adventure! 🙂

Thank you all for entering and being advocates for the natural world!
– Steph


And P.S. It’s ok to have a stuffed animal as an adult. Just sayin’.


The purpose of Nurtured By Nature is to:

• Foster hope and well-being to children with life-threatening to terminal illness through physical

interactions with nature.

• Promote a healthy life outlook and healing for children who have suffered severe emotional

trauma through physical interactions with nature.

• Inspire a bond between humankind and animals, promoting preservation.

• Create innovative and sustainable conservation projects


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