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Otters: The elusive carnivore

Have you ever seen an otter? Maybe you’ve heard a big splash while down by a river bank and wondered if it might just have been one of these furry critters.

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Historically elusive, these playful mammals are most active at night, so spotting them is slightly easier at dawn or dusk. Though even then their thick brown fur helps them blend into foliage along the river, and with their eyes perched high up on their heads they can swim along happily submerged in the water making it very hard to see them easily. 

Their cheeky faces and cute little ears can make them seem like harmless cuddly beings, but if you look inside their mouths you’ll spot a set of sharp teeth ready to tuck into something fleshy! With webbed feet and muscley tails to propel them through the water, as well as a set of fierce claws, Otters are expert hunters eating fish, amphibians, birds, eggs and insects. 

Choosing rivers which are clean and full of food, otters set up a home in the river bank called a holt. Mostly solitary souls, but mating regularly throughout the year, Otters are quite the homemakers taking time to line their holts with ferns, grasses, reeds and leaves. Their homes often have multiple entrances and more than one chamber, including a latrine to keep their excrement away from where they eat and sleep. Who knew they were such organised and clean animals!

Females raise their young (pups) by themselves, keeping them warm and safe in their holt for the first 10 weeks before venturing out and teaching them to swim when they’re big enough. Pups stay with their mums, learning to hunt and look after the holt, until they are about a year old when they will leave to find their own perfect riverside location to set up home. Often Otters live until they are ten years old, usually staying in the same spot on a river, so once you see a single or family, you can usually peacefully follow their growth from afar over the years. 

Without any of their own natural predators otters should live a happy life along the rivers of southern England, however this hasn’t always been the case. In the 1950s they were on the brink of extinction due to habitats being destroyed, hunting, and pollution. In the 1980s the law which stands today was brought in to protect them and specific chemicals were banned helping to give the Otter a fighting chance to recover their populations. However, pollution in our rivers continues to be a threat to their habitat so we must ensure we do all that we can to continue to help these playful animals thrive.

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