August 19, 2011
Since I was a little girl and saw my first Clyde and Seymour show at Sea World where the sea otter pushes a little stroller into the water I became enamored with otters. So when the opportunity to see the endangered Giant River Otter presented itself I jumped at it. The otter’s need a lot of territory per family and are considered endangered by the IUCN because of habitat loss and exploitation. On the rare occasion otters are hunted by indigenous groups for their meat and pelts, but that is very uncommon these days. Their biggest threat is habitat loss due to encroaching oil companies buying up pristine land and putting in pipe lines, which result in the death of almost all surrounding biodiversity. Many of the indigenous tribes in Yasuni National Park have sold their land to the oil companies, but the Kichwa Indians have taken a different path and opened an eco-lodge on their ancestral territory. Because of the untouched nature of the land a family of river otters nest on the Anangucocha lake that the lodge is on, so Napo Wildlife Center is one of the best places in Ecuador to spot these amazing otters.
The otter family that lives on the lake is constantly changing sizes. While I was there it consisted of three otters. The month before I came two young otters were eaten by a caiman. The caimans don’t pose a threat to the full-grown otters, but they can be deadly for the babies. Each otter has its own unique white or cream colored markings on its neck and can be identified through photographs showing its neck. They are a fast moving and elusive species and in my 8 days at the lodge I only saw them 3 times- each time for only a matter of minutes. I think I drove my guides insane every morning saying the same thing- Otters again! In the drier season it is easier to track them because they leave signs. When the water is high the only way to find them is to speak with other people on the river and track them from the last known sighting. However, the upside to being there in the rainy season is that the fruits are abundant in the trees and while we were searching for otters I got to see hundreds of exotic birds and monkeys right from my canoe, but more on that later.
The giant river otter is the largest of all the 13 otter species endemic to the rainforests and wetlands of South America. They can grow very large- almost 6 feet long and are carnivorous, usually hunting fish. They are very sociable and can be very vocal with over a dozen unique vocalizations in their repertoire. There are less than 5,000 left in the wild and their population is continuing to fall with an estimated decrease of 50% in the next 20 years if the rainforest destruction continues at this rate. To learn more about these amazing animals and help save them click here.