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11 December 2019 - The first otter we ever saw in the wild

Submitted by: Grace

People often ask how we got involved with otters and when we saw our first wild one. It is hard to remember how we became so fascinated by otters but it is easy to remember the first one. It was on Skye in the early 1980s and we had gone for a walk down near Elgol. Suddenly this animal climbed out of the water and on to a rock in front of us – I can still see it now after all these years. It is a sight you never forget.

We don’t have a photo of that first encounter, but this was taken not far along the shore from there.

Elgol otter

Since then we have been privileged to see so many otters in the wild. Sometimes it is just a quick glimpse of a tail going down and the otter promptly vanishes. Sometimes we get the most amazing views of a female and her cubs or on a couple of occasions an otter bringing a giant conger eel to shore. Each sighting is different but none the less remarkable.

Here on Skye otters are not nocturnal and so we can encounter them on an afternoon walk with the dog or watch one running up the shore to the burn along from our house. And yes, we do realise how very fortunate we are.

This makes us feel even more responsible to care for these wonderful creatures in the wild.

10 December 2019 - World Otter Day

Submitted by: Grace

World Otter Day was started by IOSF back in 2014 and its aim is to draw attention to otters, their role in the environment and the problems they are facing.

It has now grown into an important date in the calendar when people all over the world celebrate the 13 species of otter. Events vary so much with children’s fun days, sponsored walks, public talks, and a lot of activity on social media. This is such a powerful tool to reach people everywhere.

World Otter Day Map

In 2019 World Otter Day was a massive success and we had events in over 30 countries globally. On social media #WorldOtterDay was trending 7th in the world!

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you about every single event but if you'd like to have a look at more World Otter Day events in 2019
click here

At this point we would like to thank everyone who has been involved, whether you held your own event or posted on social media. It all makes a massive difference to otter conservation through IOSF!

So make a note in your diary for World Otter Day 2020, and become a part of this worldwide movement for otters on 27 May 2020.

As always, IOSF will be donating grants towards a World Otter Day event so watch this space!

09 December 2019 - Otter Post Mortems and Toxicology

Submitted by: Grace

The subject of post mortems is often not popular, but they can reveal so much information. Sometimes an animal may die suddenly and then we want to know what went wrong. In the TV programmes the cause of death is always revealed but it doesn’t always work out that way in real life, and then we are left with a mystery.

Post mortems are also carried out on otters killed on the road. Yes, of course, we know how they died but again much more information can be gained. For example we once had an otter killed on the road but it turned out it had already been involved in another road accident in which its leg had been broken, but it had healed and the animal survived.

Over the years we have learnt a lot from post mortems. Vic Simpson in Cornwall was the first to find the rare Tyzzer’s liver disease in a cub from the Isle of Harris. He also identified the importance of bile fluke in otters in England.

Samples are always taken for toxicological analysis which can tell us even more. In 2000 we organised a conference on Otters and Toxicology which was held at the Gaelic College on Skye. People came from all over Europe and you can read the report here.

Pollutants were a large factor in the decline of the otter in Europe in the 1950s-60s and so it is vital that we keep monitoring this.

08 December 2019 - Austrian otter cull

Submitted by: Grace

Earlier this year we were so pleased that the Austrian government appeared to have seen sense about the killing of otters in Lower Austria. However this was short lived as Carinthia has joined Lower Austria in proposing to kill otters next year – and a lot more than the original proposals. And this is largely down to politics as they try to keep the fisheries lobby happy and ignore European conservation laws which protect this species.

WWF Austria and FOUR PAWS have set up a petition to Provincial Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Governor Peter Kaiser to call for an end to this short-sighted policy, which takes no account of the true situation of the otter population. They are making the following demands:
· To stop killing otters in Carinthia immediately
· Revoke the planned killing order in Lower Austria
· To comply fully with European nature conservation laws
· To protecting and restore rivers and lakes to prevent further fish deaths
IOSF is fully supporting this petition and we would ask you to sign here

PLEASE NOTE: The petition is in German but we have put a translation in our latest e-update which you can find here

07 December 2019 - Island Surveys

Submitted by: Grace

Over the years we have conducted a number of otter surveys, particularly on the islands off the west coast of Scotland. These have included our home island of Skye, Raasay, Harris, Uist, Barra, Eigg, Canna, Coll and Tiree. In addition we carry out regular monitoring of our local population on Skye using camera traps and annual surveys of certain sections around the Skye coast. The Skye otter monitoring project began in 2014 and the camera trap monitoring at a site in south Skye began in 2007. Such long-term research is useful not just for monitoring but also for other behavioural information.

Vandal otter

06 December 2019 - Team Otter

Submitted by: Ben

IOSF's Team Otter programme is reconnecting children with nature and the environment. It ignites a passion for a love of the environment and encourages children to take simple steps to help.

IOSF is pleased to announce that it now has Team Otter clubs in 4 countries and due to have clubs starting in the near future in many more!
If you have any interest in starting a Team Otter club then please email for more information.

This club allows you to engage with children either in a club, or school, and teach them more about wildlife, otters and the environment. Although called “Team Otter” we want children to gain a better understanding of our role within the environment, learn more about wildlife, and use otters as a mascot for that.

You can connect with other clubs across the world, showcase the awesome stuff you are doing and help be a voice for our nature.

Team Otter

05 December 2019 - William Mgomo of Tanzania

Submitted by: Grace

In 2015, we held the first ever otter training workshop in Africa. It was held at the College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka, in Tanzania, which trains rangers from throughout the continent. Participants came from 10 sub-Saharan countries and one of these was William Mgomo who works at the Liparamba Reserve in Tanzania. Since then he has gone on to do a lot of education work, both in schools and with fishermen. He has literally reached thousands of children in those few years and told them all about otters.

We have just received an email from him regarding his latest school visits. This is what he told us:

“Hope you are all doing well! Back to me I am doing good. Today (2 December) I made a visit to Halale School with 179 students and Minazi School with 82 students. I spoke with them about the importance of preserving Otters in their environment! The schools are about to close for the holiday. It was a nice moment to share stories about this wonderful creature (Otter).“

As you can see from the photos, the children in the two schools really enjoyed his visit and we know they will have learnt a lot about otters. Thank you, William.

Children in Tanzania school

Children in Tanzania School 2

04 December 2019 - IOSF Otter Oscars

Submitted by: Ben

Each year IOSF gives out “Otter Oscars” to people that have done something to help otters throughout the year. We launched the award in 2016 to ensure that people that are making the difference received the recognition they deserved.

We have had winners from all over the world and today is the perfect day to announce our IOSF Otter Oscars 2019 winners. The winner in each category is as follows:

Children’s Award - Annie, Lula, Clara and Sky, USA
As the 4 girls were finishing up for the term they were learning about loads of different animals when they fell in love with otters. They chose to do something for otter conservation and raise support through selling homemade bookmarks, posters, slime, otter balloons, otter cupcakes and cookies.

Young Person Award – Grace MacLean, Scotland
Grace put her passion towards wildlife and otters by raising awareness and support for otter conservation through selling cakes and hot drinks at the home of Skye Camanachd shinty club.

Research – Suthar Akshit, India
Suthar Akshit has worked on finding more information on the illegal trade in Gujarat, India, specifically concentrating on the Smooth-coated otter. He has gathered information on the trade and helped encourage law enforcement within the area.

Community Development – Heidy Davis, Otter Patschel Team, Brueggen, Germany
Heidy and her team have raised awareness across Germany with otter talks, education stands and press releases. Heidy and her team also spend their time spreading the word of IOSF and help raise support for the work we are doing.

Group or Organisation – NGO Living Green, Montenegro
NGO Living Green and Ninoslav Djurovic have raised the profile of otters in Montenegro and around Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans, and home of the Eurasian otter. They have also been integral in the creation of 7 Team Otter clubs across the country.

Photography – Chaminda Jayasekara, Sri Lanka
Chaminda monitors Eurasian otter populations across the island country and often gets amazing pictures of his resident otters. See picture below.

Special Award – Hans Kruuk, Netherlands
Hans Kruuk is a renowned otter scientist who has written many papers and books on otters and other carnivores. He did a lot of work in Shetland and was probably the first to really study coastal Eurasian otters. He was Paul's supervisor for his PhD and was a great help to him during his studies.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Oscar Winner - Chaminda

03 December 2019 - Re-discovery of the Hairy-Nosed Otter

Submitted by: Grace

At the start of the 20th century it would seem that hairy-nosed otters were common in southeast Asia but by 1979 their population had been greatly reduced. In 1998 the Asian otter experts said that no sightings of this species had been recorded for ten years and they therefore thought it was extinct.

However, one scientist from Thailand, Budsabong Kanchanasaka thought there might still be some present in her country. IOSF managed to obtain some funding from the Rainforest Action Fund and during a survey in the Phru Toa Dang swamp forest Dr Kanchanasaka did see otters crossing the road. However, they were some distance away and they could not be sure if they were actually hairy-nosed or the smooth-coated otter.

In February 1999 rangers from the wildlife sanctuary in Phru Toa Dang heard about some cubs which were being kept as pets. Budsabong reported “Hurrying down south on a hunch, my suspicions were proven true – the otters had hair-covered rhinariums – hairy-nosed otters”!!

Hairy-nosed cub

Apparently a local man had found three cubs crying in the forest and as a forest fire was approaching he took them home with him. At that time they were the only known hairy-nosed otters to have been found in the wild but we did now know that at least a small population did still exist in the Phru Toa Dang swamp forest in Thailand.

Since then Hairy-Nosed Otters have also been found in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia, but the populations are isolated and vulnerable. Their presence in Myanmar was confirmed in 2014 when a freshly killed animal was found in a market at Mong La. This is only the second record of this species for Myanmar and the first one was a skin collected in the north of the country in 1939.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, in Cambodia, is the only place where this species has ever been kept in captivity and they still have one in care, called Neary - "Lady" in Khmer.

02 December 2019 - Ban on mechanical kelp dredging

Submitted by: Grace

IOSF not only works internationally but we are also involved in campaigning to protect the environment and otter habitat more locally.

In summer 2018 there was a plan put forward by Marine Biopolymers to dredge mechanically for the seaweed kelp all along the west coast of Scotland – prime otter habitat. In fact if you compared the map showing where they were planning to dredge, it was almost the same as a map of the distribution of the otter here. Otters feed in waters less than 5 meters deep - exactly where kelp occurs. So by destroying the kelp forest they would be destroying otter feeding habitat as this is where the fish on which they feed live.

IOSF joined with many organisations involved in the campaign to prevent this destruction. Ullapool Sea Savers is a group of kids who were very active and deserve extra mention – they even went to Holyrood to support the campaign to the Scottish Government. For this reason they were awarded the Otter Oscar for Young People in 2018.

In September 2018 the Holyrood committee voted to ban the mechanical harvesting of wild kelp and this was later upheld by the Scottish Government.

01 December 2019 - ADVENT BLOG - Guyana Workshop

Submitted by: Grace

Each December we have a daily Advent Blog and this year we are going to tell you about just some of our achievements locally and internationally over the last 26 years.

It seems sensible to start with the most recent – the Guyana workshop. Some of you will already have read a bit about it in a previous Blog and we are also preparing our report which will be available soon. But here is a brief summary:

Yupukari is an Amerindian village in western Guyana and has a population of about 1,000, roughly the same as our own village of Broadford. It is on the banks of the Rupununi river and the immediate habitat around the village is savannah but it quickly changes to rainforest as you travel along the river.

We had three main aims for the workshop:

To encourage the local people of the village of Yupukari to take on the role of monitoring THEIR otters on the Rupununi. We knew there were Giant Otters and Dr Pablo César Hernández-Romero from the Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes in Mexico, also found a holt and spraint of the Neotropical Otter. Neotropical Otters are not so well known as they don’t go round in noisy groups like the Giants and there is far less information about them. Training was given in identifying secondary signs, recording data and use of GPS and camera traps (see photo below). Six people are keen to continue with the work and they will be able to obtain far more data about both species.

Camera trapping on Rupununi

To encourage more environmental education through the wildlife club. IOSF’s Education Officer, Ben, helped with an afternoon of activities for about 80 children from Yupukari and neighbouring villages. Before we left Ben had visited our local primary school and some of the children had written letters to the Guyanese children so several of them wrote back and created a poster which Ben will be taking to the Broadford school.

Ben education in Yupukari

To encourage more outreach about the importance of otters and environmental conservation. There was a lot of interest to create more awareness in neighbouring villages and there are plans for an Otters and Wildlife Festival next May around the time of World Otter Day.

Thanks to all involved for making this such a success

Group photo Yupukari


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