Since 1993 IOSF has been supporing otter conservation work in Europe. The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is classed as “Near Threatened” in the IUCN Red Data List, which means it is near to facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
1. Otter hospital and rehabilitation centre in Scotland
IOSF’s reputation in this field has grown considerably. We are now regarded as a world expert in the care of otters and we receive frequent requests for help and information. We have been asked to speak at conferences in Ireland, Cheshire and Holland and are currently assisting with the establishment of a similar facility inGermany.
We also help with advice and information on how to care for these animals, and by sending supplies of the special milk substitute and other equipment. In 2010 we helped with two cubs in the Democratic Republic of Congo – one spotted necked otter in the east of the country and one rare Congo clawless cub in the west. TheCongo clawless cub, named Mazu, has become an ambassador for otters in the region. Local villagers are now concerned for otter conservation and even take pride in telling any visitors to the village all about THEIR otter. Even politicians are visiting the village, Kikongo, from the capital Kinshasa. A second Congo clawless cub arrived in March 2012 and there is now the official Kikongo Otter Sanctuary. This is clearly having a great impact on conservation of the otter and on caring for the environment in general in this country and further afield in Africa as the story spreads.
In our own hospital we treat on average 12-14 otters a year. The biggest cost is for fish. Otter cubs stay with their mothers for 12-15 months so we have to release them at about the same age – if we release them too early they will not survive. There is no set breeding season so cubs come in throughout the year, although there is an obvious increase in the winter as times are harder for the female. However, if a cub is old enough to be released in winter we will wait until the following spring when conditions are better. This is why the food bills are so high.
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2. Otter post mortem work in Scotland
The project is to develop a co-ordinated approach to monitor the health of otters in Scotland by carrying out post mortem examinations to determine pollution levels and also to investigate whether the bile fluke is present in Scottish otters. At present otters in Scotland are not being monitored at all for these potential threats, although the work is being carried out with support of the Environment Agency in England and Wales.
The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) was once widespread throughout the UK and the rest of Europe. Several factors contributed to the decline but the major cause was pollution. As otters live on the land and in the water they require both habitats to be of optimum quality and they are a species that acts as a barometer to the health of the environment.
In the 1950s and 1960s otters disappeared from much of the UK largely as a result of the introduction of pesticides (organochlorines) which accumulated in their tissue. Since these chemicals have been banned the population has been returning to various parts of the country but in spite of what we read in the media it is a slow process.
The earlier decline in the population went largely undetected as the need for monitoring was not understood. Otters are a Schedule V species and as such there is a duty under European legislation to monitor the health and status of the population. In Scotland this is not being done.
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3. Otters and fisheries working group and conference
There has been a lot in the press about otters being everywhere in the UK and some fishery people are blaming them for reducing fish stocks. There has even been an e-petition calling for a cull of otters. However, it was reported in the Norwich Evening News (4 April 2012) that impressive catches in the Wensum Valley Freshwater Championship “should have reassured anxious anglers that the otter populations are not as threatening as the culling campaigners and vested interests claim.”
Of course, no-one is saying otters don't take fish, but otters do not exist in the vast numbers suggested – in fact the most recent figures quote the UK otter population at about 10,000 but this is questionable. representatives of the fishery community, including fisheries trusts, fish farmers, koi carp keepers and anglers. The aim is that this Group can work together to provide accurate information on otters and their impact on fisheries and also to provide practical advice and solutions to problems.
To bring this Group together IOSF will be holding a one day conference in Edinburgh with delegates from all interested parties and those with experience in otter mitigation at fisheries from the UK and Europe. At the end of the conference, representatives will be invited on to the Working Group and recommendations will be drawn up for further work to be carried out by the Group based on co-operation between otter scientists and fisheries. Proceedings will be produced for distribution to delegates but they will also be made available through the IOSF website.
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