The ultimate otter

[After my otter excitement last week, I promised that I’d detour away from Maine and retrieve some photos I took in my pre-blog days. Here they are.]

The Giant Otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, is native to the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata river systems in South America. I took these photos in 2013 in the Pantanal in Brazil, the largest wetland in the world, sadly badly scarred by wildfires in the last few years.

Giant Otters are very large animals, the males weighing up to 70lbs and measuring 6 feet long, excluding tail., which can add another 2 feet.

The Pantanal is perfect habitat for them, even in the dry season. We saw them on the Cuiabá River, from our small boat, just visible in the photo. They live in family groups of a monogamous pair and the young from several breeding seasons. This group had seven members, including two small pups.

Like the North American River Otter, they love to slide. This one is descending a sand bank into the river:

Fish are abundant, and otters are fierce hunters:

with impressive teeth and jaws:

It was late afternoon, and the babies were being given their evening bath, not without protest. .

This one wasn’t too keen, but the ruthlessly efficient adults teamed up and pushed it underwater to do a thorough job:

Grooming distributes oil through their pelt, rendering it waterproof.

They have a rather endearing behavior called periscoping, in which they stick their head above the water to check for danger, just like the grey whales do in San Ignacio Lagoon (but on a smaller scale!). Watch for a little head swimming in from behind the fallen tree on the right hand side:

These spectacular animals are now endangered as their habitat steadily shrinks, and gets polluted and over-fished.  I have also seen them on the Napo River (a tributary of the Amazon) in Ecuador, where they are Critically Endangered. The IUCN Red List website points out that “Rivers are roads into the forest, this is where people settle, where gold mining takes place, where there is competition for fish or overfishing, where “green” energy can be harvested, where climate change will have strong impacts, where contamination can be spread rapidly, and so on. This vital link to rivers and wetlands renders the Giant Otter much more susceptible than most other comparable large predators of the Amazon, such as the Jaguar. “

To end with, a poem for all you otter-dreamers out there..

4 thoughts on “The ultimate otter”

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