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Otters of the world

We are not members of IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

I think I wrote this article about 2007/2008 but the article below is worth a read.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/robertojurkschat/red-list-iucn-trophy-hunting?fbclid=IwAR0O2XSOogqiT77wPylMQto1lw8noBcM4DgtOn0UDEunTzqtnOMOEcpZ7Kg

We are not members of the IUCN Otter Specialists Group (OSG) and the reason for this is to do with the killing of otters for fur.  I know there is a big problem with this in Asia and it is largely led by poverty.  However there is also a big problem in North America but it is legal – they trap about 50,000 otters for fur each year and in 21 states in USA otters were reintroduced after becoming extinct – now in 14 of these states it is legal to kill them again.

These figures do not take into account those animals which are caught by “accident” when trapping for other species – this must be quite high as in November 2015 one person caught 2 within 10 days in Indiana when trapping for beaver.  But of course most animals caught “accidentally” are not reported.

This trapping is supposed to be sustainable but there are no accurate population figures so if you don’t know how many you have, how can you say it is sustainable to “harvest” so many.  This is the reason why we have withdrawn from the OSG.  Hunting is a big problem in Asia and they are very much against this of course.  But in Asia the hunting is largely by poor fishermen who are trying to supplement their living and it also removes an animal which they regard as competition.  It is still wrong of course, but in North America it is very different and OSG are not willing to tackle this.   We have brought up the subject with IUCN and they again say it is sustainable – but IUCN have members such as The Fur Institute of Canada and The International Fur Federation!  The Dallas Safari Club is also a member – they actually auctioned a rhino to be hunted and killed and they justified it by saying that the money would go to conservation!!

IUCN and OSG are not willing to take a stance against this American killing of otters so we cannot be part of an organisation which we see as hypocritical.  I hope you understand this.

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Otters of the world

Why we are not members of IUCN Otter Specialist Group

I think I wrote this about 2007/2008 and there is an interesting article below which looks more at IUCN generally.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/robertojurkschat/red-list-iucn-trophy-hunting?fbclid=IwAR0O2XSOogqiT77wPylMQto1lw8noBcM4DgtOn0UDEunTzqtnOMOEcpZ7Kg

We are not members of the IUCN Otter Specialists Group (OSG) and the reason for this is to do with the killing of otters for fur.  I know there is a big problem with this in Asia and it is largely led by poverty.  However there is also a big problem in North America but it is legal – they trap about 50,000 otters for fur each year and in 21 states in USA otters were reintroduced after becoming extinct – now in 14 of these states it is legal to kill them again.

These figures do not take into account those animals which are caught by “accident” when trapping for other species – this must be quite high as in November 2015 one person caught 2 within 10 days in Indiana when trapping for beaver.  But of course most animals caught “accidentally” are not reported.

This trapping is supposed to be sustainable but there are no accurate population figures so if you don’t know how many you have, how can you say it is sustainable to “harvest” so many.  This is the reason why we have withdrawn from the OSG.  Hunting is a big problem in Asia and they are very much against this of course.  But in Asia the hunting is largely by poor fishermen who are trying to supplement their living and it also removes an animal which they regard as competition.  It is still wrong of course, but in North America it is very different and OSG are not willing to tackle this.   We have brought up the subject with IUCN and they again say it is sustainable – but IUCN have members such as The Fur Institute of Canada and The International Fur Federation!  The Dallas Safari Club is also a member – they actually auctioned a rhino to be hunted and killed and they justified it by saying that the money would go to conservation!!

IUCN and OSG are not willing to take a stance against this American killing of otters so we cannot be part of an organisation which we see as hypocritical.  I hope you understand this.

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Otters of the world

WILDLIFE FARMING AND CHINESE MEDICINE

This is not strictly to do with otters but it is about the fact that we seem to have learnt absolutely nothing about our impact on wildlife and ultimately ourselves through the Covid-19 pandemic.

A recent article started “Nepal is pressing ahead with controversial plans to launch commercial farming of wild animals in the country, as major traditional Chinese medicine companies seek to invest

The article describes an interview with Hari Bhadra Acharya, a spokesperson at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in April 2021.  During the interview he received many calls from people asking about obtaining a licence to farm various species of wild animal including deer and snakes and these enquiries are increasing. 

Until recently the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973 meant that all wild animals (except fish and certain invertebrates) were protected.  In 2017 the government passed an amendment to the act to allow farming of wild animals for commercial purposes and in 2019 a list was published showing which animals could be farmed.  As yet otters are not included but the list includes 10 mammals, 12 birds and all reptiles except pythons.  The only hold-up at the moment is how people are to get the original “seed” animals from which to breed the captive populations.  Apparently this has been held up by Covid-19!!

For some time it was legal to captive breed certain animals for “conservation and research purposes” but this is a very loose term and many of the rhesus macaques bred in Nepal ended up in labs in the USA.  This was stopped in 2009 and many of the monkeys were released – happy ending?  No, the majority of them died as they did not know how to survive in the wild.

The new list of farmed wild animals seems to be based largely on financial gain and there was no consultancy.  Indeed, there are various basic errors:  two birds are listed separately but are actually the same species with different local names and tortoises are classed as amphibians, when they are in fact reptiles!  The list also includes certain species regarded as endangered or vulnerable such as the hog deer, swamp deer and musk deer, and the last species is particularly valuable for use in Chinese medicine and perfumery.

Sadly, some conservationists DON’T see a problem if it is “done properly and monitored effectively” – has mankind ever done such things properly and monitored them effectively!  They argue that the revenue raised could be used for conservation.  Even WWF Nepal are quoted as saying “It’s not an issue of for or against wildlife farming in general. We need to be wise and think about how economic benefits could be harnessed without undermining the values of wild conservation, and much also depends on the status of species we select for farming,”

This is the same argument used by the Dallas Safari Club for holding an auction to allow someone to shoot a rhino – the money raised will go back into rhino conservation!!!  The Dallas Safari Club are members of IUCN (the World Conservation Union). In order to establish a stable financial basis for its work, IUCN was involved in setting up the World Wildlife Fund in 1961 (now World Wide Fund for Nature) who would work on fundraising to cover part of the operational costs. CITES and TRAFFIC were also set up by IUCN.

IOSF is not a member of IUCN as we cannot belong to an organisation with members involved in trophy hunting and the fur.trade like Dallas Safari Club and the Fur Institute of Canada.

Fortunately, there are still some voices within authorities who are totally against the whole issue of wildlife farming.  Hari Bhadra Acharya rightly points out that there is nothing to stop someone with a farm from killing more wild animals or buying more from poachers, as has been documented in China and Vietnam. And according to the new act “Any person, body, group or community may, subject to the prescribed standards, also carry out agro-forestry, herbs farming and wildlife farming,” so with over 20,000 community forest groups in Nepal how can this be monitored effectively?

There are lots of other issues which need to be answered such as: It has been shown that some people prefer body parts from wild animals than from farmed.  How much benefit will there actually be for communities?

There has been interest from Chinese companies in potential wildlife farming in Nepal for many years and some Chinese companies are looking to invest in this new source for medicinal parts.

So the question has to be asked why is Nepal considering it – and the simple answer is money.  The pandemic may have delayed it but Hari Bhadra Acharya believes that sooner or later it will happen.  HOW SADhttps://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/wildlife-farming-stirs-controversy-in-nepal/?fbclid=IwAR2OBH4zkb7XTVFLHCuMTCZIKMY-wAhkw5lj2kDYuAA1KKQjVHta_nJNDVg

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Otters of the world

HOW ACCURATE IS THE RED LIST FOR MAMMALS? A CASE STUDY

By Grace M Yoxon

Published by Highlnd Biological Recording Group and available at the Ottershop

In 2018, the Mammal Society published a Review of the Population and Conservation of British Mammals, (Mathews et al 2018).  This was followed in 2020 by a Red List for Britain’s Mammals with assessments according to IUCN criteria (Mathews and Harrower 2020).

Naturally our main focus is on otters and so we checked the information for this species and found that it is highly flawed.  According to the new Red List the otter in England is classed as “Least Concern” whereas in Scotland and Wales the species is classed as “Vulnerable”!

We queried this with the Mammal Society who said that the data was taken from sightings, National Surveys and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).  Of course, any assessment such as this is only as good as the data on which it is based.  In HBRG we are very careful that our data is verified as otherwise it can give a completely false picture.

So let’s question the data a bit more.

Sightings

Unless the record has actually been verified by someone with experience in otters some of the “records” could actually be mink.  Furthermore, one animal may be recorded several times, especially in the larger home ranges in riparian habitats.  This will clearly give a considerable over-estimate when multiplied by many areas. 

Spraint surveys

The National Surveys are all based on spraint and so clearly there is the same issue of multiple records of an animal as it can easily spraint across several hectads.  It has been proven that spraint gives no indication of population size (Yoxon & Yoxon 2014) and yet this is the method used.  All spraint tells you is that an otter has been at that location – it does not tell you if it is resident or breeding.

It is certainly true that otters are being recorded in new areas, particularly in England, and also in more urban habitats.  But can we be sure that actual numbers have gone up?  For one thing there are a lot more people in England so this may well generate more records.  Just look at the distribution of HBRG records throughout the Highlands and the gap for any species is not necessarily due to non-existence but is often due to the fact that there is no-one there to record it.  There is also a lot of evidence that eel populations have crashed in many parts of England (Walker 2019) and as eels are a major part of the diet of freshwater otters, this is crucial.  Is it not more likely that the size of home ranges has increased, because they are having to travel further to obtain their prey?  Are they also expanding into more urban areas and into people’s fish ponds in order to get food? (Yoxon 2018)

Population figures

Population figures for otters are very difficult to obtain.  The figures quoted by the Mammal Society are 2,800 for England, 8,000 for Scotland and 900 for Wales, making a total of 11,700, not 11,000 as quoted in their paper.  These figures are then compared with Harris et al 1995 who quoted3,567 in mainland Scotland, 391 in Wales and 350 in England.  They then rounded that up and added on an estimated 3,000 for the islands to come up with a figure of 7,350.  This earlier work was based on DNA work in two rivers in England, data on Shetland from Kruuk et al 1989, spraint surveys and various other “estimates” based on length of suitable habitat and the percentage of occupation of sites in the latest published otter surveys.  These figures were extrapolated throughout the country.  However, as accepted by Harris et al 1995, habitat has an obvious effect on otter usage and so different habitats will not have the same population densities and this has also been shown on the Isle of Skye (Yoxon 2013).  Therefore theMammal Society are comparing two sets of figures which are based on different methodologies and therefore there cannot be any real comment about any population change. The only truly reliable way to obtain real numbers is by DNA and this has been done in very few areas and it is impossible to use this data for the whole country. 

The Mammal Society based their occupancy levels on the National Otter Surveys, which are carried out using spraint.  In Scotland this appears to suggest an increase from 57% in 1977-79 to 92% in 2003-04 (Strachan 2007) but a decline to 80% in 2011-12 (Findlay et al. 2015). This has been extrapolated out so that if the decline of 12% continues for the next 8 years there would be a decline of 34% over three generations.  On this basis that would indeed make otters in Scotland “Vulnerable”.  But is it really possible to say that?

Distribution map for otters in Scotland

The distribution map for Scotland in the 2018 Review appears to show a substantial “hole” to the east of Fort William.  And yet, IOSF does have records of otters in that area and our data goes into the NBN via HBRG and there is no evidence of such a “hole” in the NBN distribution map.  So the data on otters is there.

Otter distribution in Scotland from 2018 Review    

Otter distribution in Scotland from NBN

                                                                         

Discussion

The objective of the review was “to produce the most accurate assessment possible of population size, geographical range, and conservation trends since 1995”.   However, there are several flaws in this assessment of the status of Scottish otters:

  1. The latest Scottish survey was carried out in poor weather which does reduce the accuracy of the survey – this is admitted in the Report.
  2. The number and distribution of sites surveyed was greatly reduced from roughly 4,000 in the 2003-04 survey to just 1,000 in the 2011-12 survey so it is impossible to compare.  If only roughly 25% of the sites were re-surveyed, we have no idea if populations in the remaining 75% of the sites have gone up, down or remained the same based on that data.  So you cannot conduct a proper statistical analysis if you are not comparing the same data.

There is therefore no evidence whatsoever of the true status of Scottish otters – is the population declining, increasing or stable? 

It is accepted that more data is necessary but for a truly valid Red List assessment of Scottish otters any statistical analysis must be based on sound comparative data.

The report states “The future prospects for each species were assessed, in terms of the likely changes in population size, range size and habitat quality, based on a combination of empirical evidence and expert opinion. The assessment considered historical changes in population size and range over the preceding 20 years, and evaluated direct and indirect drivers of change (for example, hunting pressure, habitat loss, and climate change).”  In many areas, particularly in England, habitat loss and fragmentation is rampant due to increased construction of housing, roads and even HS2 so clearly things have and are changing.  So how can the otter assessment for England be “Least Concern”.

The Red List is an international process, and not one that the Mammal Society or any other organisation, can change.  The argument is that it does create awareness of issues being faced by different species and although it is not perfect “a blunt tool is better than no tool at all”.   However, this can be very dangerous. It may indeed increase awareness, but once this sort of information is in the public domain and is picked up by the media it can lead to false impressions.  There are already a lot of problems with fisheries following reports that otters are “everywhere”.  By now classifying English otters as “Least Concern” it just adds to the impression that there is no need for concern.

The main problem is that Red List assessments are used by governments worldwide to create conservation policy.  If they see that a species is “Least Concern” then they will turn their conservation attention elsewhere when the situation is in fact dire. 

It is essential that any assessment is based on sound scientific data which can be validated and tested statistically.  At HBRG, we all submit our records which are then transferred to the NBN for use in assessments such as this.  If someone requests records from our Records Secretary they receive a full list of designations including Scottish Biodiversity List, Habitats Directive, etc and also the context.  It is therefore vitally important that we DO submit our records so that we can ensure that the data is there and if it is not used then we can question it.  We have examined the case for otters and found it wanting, but how do we know that the assessments for other species are equally flawed. We would encourage other members of the Group to check their own specialist species to see how accurate the assessment has been there. 

References

Findlay, M., Alexander, L. and Macleod, C., 2015. Site condition monitoring for otters (Lutra lutra) in 2011-12. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 521.

Harris, S., Morris, P., Wray, S., and Yalden, D., 1995. A review of British mammals: population estimates and conservation status of British mammals other than cetaceans. Peterborough: The Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Kruuk, H., Moorhouse, A., Conroy, J.W.H., Durbin, L., and Frears, S., 1989. An estimate of numbers and habitat preferences of otters (Lutra lutra) in Shetland, UK. Biological Conservation, 49: 241-254

Mathews F., Kubasiewicz L.M., Gurnell J., Harrower C.A., McDonald R.A. and Shore R.F., 2018.  A review of the population and conservation status of British mammals: technical summary. A report by the Mammal Society under contract to Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Natural England, Peterborough https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/mammal-review-2018-technical-summary/

Mathews F., and Harrower C., 2020. IUCN – compliant Red List for Britain’s terrestrial mammals. assessment by the Mammal Society under contract to Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. Natural England, Peterborough  https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/red-list/

Strachan, R., 2007. National survey of otter Lutra lutra distribution in Scotland 2003-04. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 211

Walker, P., 2019. Why saving the European eel matters. The Ecologist https://theecologist.org/2019/jul/16/why-saving-european-eel-matters

Yoxon, P., 2013. A Model of the Effect of Environmental Variables on the Presence of Otters along the Coastline of the Isle of Skye.  International Journal of Biodiversity, vol. 2013, Article ID 386723, 7 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/386723

Yoxon, P. and Yoxon, K., 2014. Estimating otter numbers using spraints: is it possible?  Journal of Marine Biology, Volume 2014, Article ID 430683, 6 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/430683

Yoxon, P., 2018. Are Eurasian otters “flooding back”?  OTTER, Journal of the International Otter Survival Fund, Volume 4 pp 29-31

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Otters of the world

A REVIEW OF TRAPPING OF NORTH AMERICAN RIVER OTTERS

B.A. YOXON

International Otter Survival Fund, 7 Black Park, Broadford, Isle of Skye, IV49 9AQ

ben@otter.org

Abstract

In years gone by otters, among other species, were heavily hunted for their luxurious fur. sea otters (Enhydra lutris) have since been protected and are classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is also classified as Least Concern and is still legally trapped across much of their range. Considerable conservation efforts have been made to restore otter populations across North America and these have been largely successful. However, lessons have not been learnt and legalised trapping still occurs across a large part of the range of the North American river otter. The fur trade is largely dependent on price and demand. With demand appearing to drop, prices have also gone down and therefore the number of otters trapped has declined too. However, this could change at any time. Otter numbers are hard to quantify given their behaviour, so any suggestion that otter trapping is sustainable is questionable. Without recent and sound data of otter populations we cannot be sure of the impact of trapping on these populations. With increasing pressures from other factors, such as habitat loss and pollution, it can be said that the population of North American river otters is still under threat.

Keywords: North American river otter; Lontra canadensis; trapping; Canada; United States of America

Full paper can be found at https://www.otter.org/Public/News_Blog.aspx

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Otters of the world

WORLD OTTER DAY

International Otter Survival Fund WORLD OTTER DAY

#WorldOtterDay

Wednesday 26 May 2021

It’s time to start thinking about what you might do to support World Otter Day in 2021… it will be here sooner than you think!

Of course, we can’t be certain about how the Coronavirus situation will be globally but there are still ways to get involved and make a difference.  People’s use of social media over the past few months for virtual events (run, walk, swim, dance, sing, bake… the list is endless), meetings and presentations has been inventive and no doubt many of you will have original and fun ideas.  So let’s get thinking.

It is the most magical day for otters when, so many people full of enthusiasm, care and love of otters, create a wave around the world to ensure they are not forgotten.  Raising awareness of the challenges they face and the work that is done to help them.

WOD 2021 logo


Some simple ways to help: 

  • Use #WorldOtterDay
  • Post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all about otters, both in the lead up to the day and on the day
  • Share and tag your friends in IOSF posts to raise awareness of otter conservation and our cause
  • Encourage your friends to post as well, the more people that post, the more people we will reach
  • Tag IOSF in your posts:

                                  o Facebook  – @InternationalOtterSurvivalFund
                                  o Instagram  – @IOSF_Otters
                                  o Twitter       – @IOSF

  •  JOIN TOGETHER AROUND THE WORLD IN THE IOSF “OTTERS OF THE WORLD” WEBINAR
Webinar poster

  

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Otters of the world

IOSF World Otter Day 27th May 2020

PR4IOSF World Otter Day is on 27th May 2020. It started in 2009 as Otterly Mad Week as a week of events and education.  In 2014 it became Otter Awareness Day and in 2016 the IOSF World Otter Day.

 

So, how can YOU help?

  • Post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all about otters, both in the lead up to the day and on the day
  • Share and tag your friends in IOSF posts to raise awareness of otter conservation and our cause. We are going to put out regular posts that you can share!
  • Encourage your friends to post as well, the more people that post, the more people we will reach
  • Use #WorldOtterDay
  • Tag IOSF in your posts:

o Facebook – @InternationalOtterSurvivalFund
o Instagram – @IOSF_Otters
o Twitter – @IOSF

We are once again delighted to announce that we can offer four World Otter Day grants for work across the world. We are able to offer a fourth thanks to the kind donation from another anonymous donor!

As ever, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to run an event and raise awareness so we had a difficult decision to make but four had to be chosen. But it was also great to learn that some of those not chosen are still holding events and we look forward to working with them in the future!

This year’s grants have been awarded to:

Lesotho – Human Nature Projects Organisation Lesotho
This event will raise awareness of otters across the African enclave. Otter populations do exist but very little is known about them or done to protect them. An otter education programme for all volunteers and other relevant stakeholders will be completed. This will focus on teaching about the importance of otter conservation, distribution in Lesotho, a history of otters in Lesotho and how can we raise the overall awareness of otter conservation across the whole country. The participants will include the UN Agency Representative, Relevant Government Ministry’s officials and Media Guests, as well as the expert from the Lesotho University.

This will build a strong awareness base of otters in Lesotho. Through this celebration, they will raise awareness through volunteers, media participants and all attendees. By including media coverage the entire nation will gain more of an understanding of otters and their conservation.

Malaysia – Malaysian Nature Society, MNS
An event by the Malaysia Otter Network, the very first established otter network in Malaysia. The celebration will be a 1-day event where the first half of the day will be public engagement activities such as exhibitions, launching ceremony of World Otter Day, a lake clean-up and public talks by the members of Malaysia Otter Network.

The event will help initiate a national effort in bringing together a group of identified otter experts in Malaysia and serve as a valuable opportunity for the group to discuss and exchange knowledge for future otter conservation in Malaysia.

Furthermore, they plan to organise an event at Kuala Lumpur City Hall, which recently pledged to ‘adopt’ the otter after the phenomenal appearance of wild otters in two urban parks in the city, to protect them from visitors to the parks. The public event will serve as an outreach and awareness programme in promoting otters as the ambassador of wetland conservation and the threats that they are facing.

The City Hall event has been postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak but will be conducted once it is safe to do so, under government guidelines.

Morocco – Association Nature Solutions

The Maghreb subspecies of Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra splendida) is a threatened species in Morocco due to pollution, climate change and human persecution. The National Park of Talassemtane is a stronghold of the species in Morocco but it still only lives in the remote upper freshwater streams. This event will raise awareness among school children, local communities and visitors to the National Park.

Materials will be produced on the species in Arabic and French for distribution to schools, visitors, local associations and conservation authorities. There will also be an event to raise awareness of the otter and encourage field research for students at Tétouan University.

Nepal – Aarati Basnet

Aarati Basnet has conducted World Otter Day events over previous years and we are delighted to support her event this year.

This project will be carried out focusing on children, women and the indigenous ‘Rana Tharu’ community in Shuklaphanta National Park and its buffer zone. The National Park is home to some of the remaining populations of vulnerable smooth coated otters in Nepal.

The event will increase awareness within local communities about the existence and the importance of otters and the roles we can play to conserve them. It will also highlight otters as an ambassador of the wetland ecosystem to draw public attention to its conservation.

Children are the future leaders and much of the event will focus on raising awareness among them. It will provide a fun and engaging learning experience by using games for conservation education focusing on otters as ambassadors of the wetland ecosystem. Games, quizzes and an art competition will be more effective than traditional teaching methods in enhancing learning motivation, active participation, and concentration among the children.

In the long term, we believe it will lead to a more peaceful coexistence between threatened wildlife species and people living alongside them.

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Otters of the world

ARE WE HEADING FOR ANOTHER DISASTER IN OTTER NUMBERS?

Over the last few years there has been a lot in the media about otters “flooding back” and

being present in nearly all rivers in the UK. And yet, as we have mentioned time and time again, this is confirmed only by otter spraints (droppings), which bears no relation to actual otter numbers.

Otter surveys are almost always based on secondary signs in the form of spraint, but this really only gives information on the distribution of otter spraint and can give no idea of otter numbers, or even if the animal is resident. The otter could merely have been passing through trying to establish a home range and it could pass through several 10km squares on its way, leaving spraint as it goes.

Otters have vast home ranges and in freshwater systems a male can have a home range of about 50km of waterway.  In a radio-tracking exercise in Perthshire in the 1980s a male otter travelled a distance of 41km in a single night. So it is perfectly feasible that he may actually have sprainted in four 10km grid squares giving four positive records. This would therefore suggest that there were four otters rather than one.

In spite of this difficulty of assessing numbers, it has been estimated that the total number of otters in England Scotland and Wales is around 10,000.  Let us put this into context by looking at three other species listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  There are estimated to be 1.2million water voles, 800,000-1,250,000 brown hares and 160,000 red squirrels.  And yet all three of these species are causing concern because of declining populations.

We can therefore see how rare our otter, the Eurasian otter, actually is.  The reason for this is that they need a large quantity of clean water to provide food and Eurasian otters do not live in groups, just single animals or a female with cubs.  They are therefore very vulnerable – for example, if a female is killed on the road it may take a long time for her to be replaced.

The otter came close to extinction in the UK after dramatic population declines from the mid 1950s-60s. These declines were largely linked to the use of organochlorine pesticides, including dieldrin, in agricultural and in sheep dips. When they leached into waterways, these chemicals had a serious impact on top predators, including the otter, as the chemicals become more and more concentrated in animals higher up the food chain. Although the chemicals were eventually withdrawn from use it took a long time for the levels of pollution in waterways to decline and the otter population started to recover.

However, in August 2019 a report was published following an investigation by The Times into the state of our waterways.  This stated that many of the rivers in England are so polluted that they are dangerous for people to swim in.  If it is so dangerous that people cannot take the occasional swim then they can hardly be healthy for the fish and otters either.

In fact, 86% of the rivers in England fall short of the EU’s ecological standard – just ten years ago this figure was 75%, which is bad enough.  Yes, there are clearly debates about the rights and wrongs of control within Europe, but do we really want to accept such poor water quality?

According to the report almost half of the rivers monitored by the Environment Agency (EA) exceeded limits for at least one harmful pollutant, including heavy metals and dangerous industrial and agricultural chemicals.  Cadmium is a carcinogen used in batteries and it is leaching out in landfill sites so safe levels have been breached more than 1,200 times in the past two years!

Raw sewage is also ending up in the rivers – sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately.  Southern Water were fined £127 million  in July 2019 after the dumping of an unknown quantity of sewage but this fine was not so much for the pollution incident but for “deliberate misreporting” data.  Of course sewage carries the health hazard of disease to bathers but it also contains various household chemicals.  And there is the added risk that no-one knows the cocktail effect of all these chemicals on the environment.

According to EA, “Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution, largely due to the £25 billion of investment that the Environment Agency has required water companies to make.”  And yet according to The Times report “Dangerous pollutants in England’s waterways have reached their highest levels since modern testing began, with no river in the country now certified as safe for swimmers.”  Clearly both of these statements cannot be true.

The budget of EA has been drastically cut and this obviously has serious implications.  There is less testing and less enforcement and so in many cases the water companies are suggesting their own penalties, which are often contributions to charity!  Have you ever heard of a person or organisation who breaks a law and then decides on their own penalty!  As Kerry McCarthy, MP, a member of the environmental select committee, put it:  “the companies are treating fines as the cost of doing business, rather than seeing them as a serious deterrent.”

Under EU rules, our waterways should be of a good ecological standard by 2027 but we are clearly a long way off that.  One of the reasons for the poor quality according to EA is the extreme weather – it is always a safe bet to blame the weather!

Even the Angling Trust are concerned about this and Stuart Singleton-White of the Trust said “We’re going backwards — our rivers are getting worse.”

So is this why fish stocks are dwindling and otters are not necessarily the villains they are made out to be?  Clearly if fish are still at such risk from pollution, any predators, including birds and otters will not help.  However, it is the root cause which must be tackled i.e. the waterways authorities must take responsibility and not make our native wildlife scapegoats.

To us it is simple.  We continue to pollute our waterways with sewage and dangerous chemicals.  We change the habitat so that fish find it more difficult to find suitable spawning grounds.  And man-made structures such as weirs and dams, are making it harder for eels, a popular prey item of otters, to reach the areas where they mature after their long trip from the Sargasso Sea.

As a result the fish population in general is at risk, not because of the otter, but because of the careless actions of people, yet again.  Otters and fish have clearly co-existed for millennia – it is the basic ecological principal of the relationship between predators and prey.  It is only once man upsets this balance that we have a problem – and in this case the otter is being the scapegoat.

So all this begs the very serious question – “Are we heading for the same dangerous conditions for wildlife that started in the 1950s?”

To read the Times report go to :https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/pollution-no-river-in-england-is-safe-for-swimming-q8thdx678?wgu=270525_54264_15663127520327_f62cdb679e&wgexpiry=1574088752&utm_source=planit&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_content=22278

 

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Otters of the world

EURASIAN OTTER (Lutra lutra): A REVIEW OF THE CURRENT WORLD STATUS

The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) has the widest distribution of all 13 otter species but the actual worldwide status is very uncertain. It disappeared in many parts of Europe largely due to pollution but with considerable effort to improve environmental conditions they are starting to return in some areas. However, the rate of this return is largely exaggerated which creates problems with fisheries. In vast parts of its range in Asia and North Africa there is very little data and few modern records. It is therefore important to continue conservation efforts, increase public awareness and research to obtain up-to-date information on the true status.

Read full article at  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333699604_EURASIAN_OTTER_Lutra_lutra_A_REVIEW_OF_THE_CURRENT_WORLD_STATUS

Categories
Otters of the world

CONSERVATION OF ENDANGERED OTTERS AND THEIR HABITATS IN LAOS, MYANMAR, AND CHINA THROUGH EDUCATION AND A TRAINING WORKSHOP

 

IOSF heads off to Laos for its next Asian workshop on otters from the 2nd to 7th April 2018. Otters are one of Asia’s most overlooked medium-sized mammals and yet they are at the forefront of the illegal wildlife trade together with tigers and leopards – for every tiger skin found there are at least 10 otter skins and one haul in Lhasa found 778 otter skins.

Laos, Myanmar and China are a major hub for this illegal trade.  In some parts of Asia, otters (particularly Asian small-clawed otters) are taken from the wild for the pet trade and many of these are kept in terrible conditions and die.  This trade is seriously threatening the survival of otters and in some areas they have become locally extinct.

Dr Paul Yoxon of IOSF said “the Asia otter populations are in sharp decline, along with their wetland habitats, and one of the main reasons is lack of awareness.  This then leads to a lack of available funding for research, education and conservation.  The main focus of this workshop is the illegal trade and we will be working largely with government border officials, who can then enforce existing legalislation.”

 

An Otter Network will be formed for Laos to act as a launchpad of collaboration throughout the region and encourage work within communities and co-operation in conservation and law enforcement.  They can also collaborate with colleagues in the Chinese Otter Network and throughout Asia through the regional Network.