Forgotten Species – Giant River Otter

First one head comes up from the water, then another…and another!

Living in family groups and hunting for piranhas in the murky waters of rainforest rivers, the giant river otter is the longest members of the Mustelidae family. Following decades of poaching they are now endangered.

The giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is a beautiful animal adapted for an amphibious lifestyle. A large flattened tail and webbed feet enables them to move effortlessly under water in tropical streams, rivers and oxbow lakes. The family members communicate vocally with a wide variation of calls. These calls have been documented to indicate alarm, express aggressiveness and give reassurance.

A group of these animals may consist of up to 20 members, but more commonly between three and eight. They do everything together; sleep, play, travel and feed. Their main diet consists of fish, but also crabs and other invertebrates. Staying in a group is a good way of protecting each other from predators such as jaguar, caiman and cougar.

But the real threat to the otters is not a natural one. Humans have hunted these animals for a long time. Mainly for their fur. As many as 3000 furs per year were recorded in the Amazonian Brazil alone in the 1960s. The population of giant otters were decimated and only 12 where left by 1971. The implementation of CITES in 1973 reduced the hunting, allowing the population to grow, but the situation for the remaining otters is still critical. The current total population is estimated to be somewhere between 1000-5000 individuals. Habitat destruction and degradation are other problems affecting the otters. It is believed that they have lost as much as 80% of their South American range in the last decades.

With increased knowledge and awareness, this species may still have a chance to continue to exist on our planet. Photographers for Conservation believe that powerful images and visual media is an important way of making people understand more about nature and the planet we live on.

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