Most people are familiar with the sea otter or a general river otter, but there are many of these semi-aquatic (and one aquatic) mammals spread out over the world as noted by Otternet. Listed in no particular order the species are: Sea Otter, Giant Otter, Asian Small-Clawed Otter, Eurasian Otter, African Clawless Otter, North American River Otter, South American River Otter, Marine Otter, Neotropical Otter, Smooth-Coated Otter, Hairy-Nosed Otter, Spotted-Necked Otter, and Congo Clawless Otter.
2. No otters live in Antarctica or Australia
Spread out over five other continents, no otters live in Australia or Antarctica. While it may seem obvious there are no otters terrorizing Emperor Penguins or fighting with one of the several species of seal in Antarctica, the home of the marsupials and other exotic animals cannot claim an otter as one of their native species. Otter-World.com and IUCN Otter Specialist Group provide extensive research about these different species.
The Sea Otter and North American River Otter live in North America. Sea Otters reside on the West Coast, capering in the Northern Pacific Ocean, and River Otters range from Canada across the United States living in coastal waters, rivers and streams. The Sea Otter is the only fully aquatic otter.
The Giant Otter lives primarily in northern South America and expands into the center of the continent. The South American River Otter is an enigmatic species. Not much is known about its habitat, distribution, and diet; however, it is known that its range has decreased to small areas in southern Chile.
The Eurasian Otter is the most widely distributed of all the otter species. Ranging from Europe and Northern Africa to the Middle East and throughout Asia, it is not at a loss for habitat and food. Despite its wide range, it is considered the least social of all otters.
The smallest of all the otters, the Asian Small-Clawed Otter’s habitat has shrunk in recent years. Now it lives in small scattered areas from the Himalayan foothills and southern India to south Asia, Indonesia, and up to the Philippines.
The Hairy-Nosed Otter was believed to have been extinct, but four very small populations have been rediscovered. Because of its remoteness, little is known about them. The four locations where they have been spotted are: southern Thailand, southern Sumatra, south Vietnam, and southwest Cambodia.
The Smooth-Coated Otter has a much more prominent presence in Asia. From a small population in Pakistan, the species moves eastward, living throughout Nepal, India, south-western China, and southeast Asia.
The African Clawless Otter (or Cape Clawless Otter) has a habitat range in the shape of an “L”. Ranging from Senegal to Ethiopia and down to South Africa, it inhabits a variety of landscapes from coasts and rainforests to open plains.
The Spotted-Neck Otter does share some habitat with the African Clawless (Senegal to Ethiopia), but its population is more dense. They are largely concentrated in central Africa south of the Sahara, and they do extend down to some southern cape provinces.
The Congo Clawless Otter is currently being debated as a species by scientists. DNA testing is ongoing to determine if it is a “true species” or if it is a subspecies of the African Clawless. Until further evidence is discovered, it is being treated as its own species. Its range is centralized in the Congo River basin, living in habitats from northeastern Angola to Zaire and down to the southwest of the Central African Republic.
3. Otters are endangered and some are at a risk of extinction
Not all otters are considered endangered by the IUCN, but 5 of the 13 species are currently listed as endangered, with 4 of those 5 species exhibiting a decrease in population. Sea Otters are endangered but currently have a stabilized population. 3 of the 4 species of South American otters are endangered: Marine Otter, Giant Otter, and River Otter. The Hairy-Nosed Otter also faces the struggle to survive. Environmental destruction (deforestation and/or human expansion), pollution, poaching, entrapment, and population fragmentation are all causes of their endangerment.
Humans are the number one threat to otters because they desire to not only expand businesses and the growth of their own population through deforestation, but they sell otter pelts for money. Humans also pollute the otters’ habitats with waste and chemicals, and sometimes otters become entrapped in fishing gear.
There are many Internet sites dedicated to the conservation of Sea Otters, such as the Otter Project, but other otters need to be saved too. The IUCN provides an otter specialist group to obtain more information on otters. The World Wildlife Fund is another organization to contact about how you can help with otter conservation. National Sea Life has 35 locations around the world, one of which is in Birmingham, United Kingdom. They hold otter awareness weeks every year and can be contacted at any time to find out more about conservation. You can play an active role in helping these creatures survive.
4. River Otters face trapping in North America
Even though the North American River Otter is not endangered, it still struggles to live with humans. Once hunted and trapped to the brink of extinction, regulations were instated to help the populations rise, and they have. Unfortunately, some humans dislike the otters’ encroachment into their local fish population and trap the otters (as noted by Bugspray.com) which can result in the otters’ death. This is a technique used in North America; however, some states do consider the killing of an otter illegal, and humans are required to use live traps and relocate the otter elsewhere. But this is not always efficient because if the otter is not found immediately it can die from starvation. In states where it is legal to kill otters, humans may shoot the otters or trap them in a “kill trap” known as the Body Grip or Conibear. However, the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management notes that the river otter is protected in 17 states; 27 states have trapping seasons; and hunting seasons have been established in four states and two provinces.
5. Otters are considered one of the most intelligent mammals
The smallest marine mammal in the world is also considered one of the most bright and innovative. Sea Otters are capable of using tools to hunt and forage just like monkeys and apes. They use tools such as a rock to crack open clams or other shellfish. The North American and South American River Otters are known to build dens.
All species of otter have a specific vocal language to communicate with one another. Using squeaks, squeals, and chirps they are able to establish connections and a social hierarchy. In fact, Asian Small-Clawed Otters have a vocal range of 12 or more different calls. You can listen to their call for trouble/distress at the National Zoo website.
Further research is needed to make decisive conclusions about the overall intelligence of the 13 different species, but based on scientists’ observations, otters have exhibited a playful and mischievous spirit along with a keen awareness of their habitat.