Member of the mustelid family. Long slender body, with a thick muscular tail. They have small ears on their wide heads, which barely sits above water when they’re swimming. They also have webbed feet for this aquatic life. Their fur is brown, changing to a lighter cream on their undersides. Males tend to be larger and heavier than the females.
One of the widest distribution of any northern mammal and the widest distribution of any otter species. Found readily across three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. Within its historic range, has suffered localised extinctions (such as in Switzerland).
Inhabit any wetland habitat as long as there is ample food supply such as rivers, streams, swamp forests, marshes, coastal areas, and lakes. River bank vegetation is important for refuge, as well as opportunities for creating holts (dens) in the bank such as tree roots and cavities in the bank.
Varied carnivorous diet, but up to 80% of it can be fish. In addition to fish, other prey items can include any aquatic insect, reptiles, amphibian, small mammals, birds and crustaceans.
Secretive, solitary, and mostly nocturnal. Territorial by nature, individuals only tend to come together to mate. Mothers with pups are the most common social groupings of otters. Territories are marked by depositing faeces (spraints) in prominent places within it.
Eurasian otters suffered a dramatic decline across their whole range in the second half of the 20th century. By the 1970s, their range had reduced to mainly Scotland, and western Wales. Pollution from organo-chlorine pesticide use was attributed to one of the major causes of this extensive decline. Following a ban on harmful pesticides across Europe in 1979, otter numbers have started to recover. In the UK, as of 2011, the Environment Agency announced that this comeback had meant otters were now, once again present in every county in England. They are strictly protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) making it illegal to kill, keep or sell animals unless you have a license.
Habitat loss and degradation is a significant threat to otters; the removal of bank vegetation, dam construction, drainage and other aquaculture activities can have negative effects on otter populations. Pollution is also a large contributor to their historic decline, especially when coupled with habitat degradation. Organo-chlorine pesticides (DDT) and mercury are the main pollutants, and cause the decline of fish within lakes and rivers. Due to this, otter food resources are diminished and otter populations decline. Hunting for furs and persecution from anglers have also all been contributors to local declines.
Our otters are near the entrance of the park in an unmistakable enclosure opposite the Ken West aviary. Our two permanent residents are a male and female pair names Loki and Freya respectively. These guys are fed 3 times a day, often with a talk at their lunchtime feeds. Be sure to keep your eye out to spot them, as although Loki is normally quite the show off, he does occasionally hide up in the reeds at the back of the enclosure. Freya is a much shyer animal; if you can’t spot her out and about, chances are she’s having a bit of a lie in in one of their holts.
Did you know?
- There are 13 different species of otter all around the world, the largest being from South America and reaching an average of 5ft in length!
- Otter spraint aromas can vary quite a lot and are not always unpleasant (some people have described it as “freshly mown grass” or even “jasmine tea”).
- A group of otters is called a “romp”.