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Otters: Back from the brink in Somerset

PUBLISHED: 10:55 12 February 2019

Pesticides poisoning waterways were linked to a nationwide decline of otters from the 1960s and almost wiped out the otter population across Somerset (c) CreativeNature_nl / Getty Images

Pesticides poisoning waterways were linked to a nationwide decline of otters from the 1960s and almost wiped out the otter population across Somerset (c) CreativeNature_nl / Getty Images

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After almost being wiped out, the otter is re-colonising the waterways of Somerset, say the experts at Secret World Wildlife Rescue

The European or common otter, Lutra Lutra, belongs to the family Mustelidae which also includes weasels and badgers. They are one of the largest carnivores found in Britain and are an important predator and part of our national heritage. Their habit and food needs make them an important indicator species for the quality of the wetlands and waterways they rely on.

Pesticides poisoning waterways were linked to a nationwide decline of otters from the 1960s and almost wiped out the otter population across Somerset. The banning of DDT and the declining use of organochlorines are aiding the otter’s recolonisation of the county’s rivers, streams and lakes.

Threats still exist for the otter, primarily habitat destruction and road deaths. Otter cubs rescued by Secret World Wildlife Rescue are generally due to them being orphaned by the mother being killed on the road.

Otters live solitary lives only spending time together to court and mate. Cubs are born all year round and will remain with the mother for up to 15-18 months. Otters spend about 80% of their time on land so, although their diet is primarily fish, they will take water birds, roosting birds in reeds and amphibians as food, as well as crustaceans. Hunting is mainly done at night and during the day they rest in their holt or above ground. Strongly territorial, otters inhabit unpolluted freshwater. Territories of one male can be up to seven miles of river which would overlap with several females at different locations along the river.

Their strong muscular tail, slender body and webbed feet make them excellent swimmers and divers. Their dense fur means they can survive in the water at very low temperatures, their long outer guard hair keeping them warm and dry by trapping layers of air.

Otters can be found on land or at the coastline but if they live near the sea, they need fresh water nearby to wash the salt out of their coats which would affect their insulation.

The otter cubs at Secret World are cared for and rehabilitated in a specialist otter pond for up to 18 months, reflecting the time they spend with their mother in the wild.

Post release monitoring has shown otters feeding naturally and even some with a partner. Somerset has an action plan in place to support the monitoring of otter populations.

Amore the otter at Secret WorldAmore the otter at Secret World

Otter orphans at Secret World Wildlife Rescue

Amoré was rescued in February last year. Hidden in reeds, the tiny cub had been calling for its mother since 5am, but its calls were becoming weaker and with no mother in sight, it was brought to Secret World.

After a period of hand-rearing and recovery, Amoré was transferred to another animal care centre to be paired with another orphaned otter.

Secret World founder Pauline Kidner says: “Otters are sociable animals and Amoré needed a friend to play with. Staff were sad to say goodbye to her but knew how lonely she would be if kept on her own. After contacting other animal rescue centres, we managed to find another orphaned otter called Amico, to cohabit with Amoré.”

In June, animal carers were delighted to learn that Amoré was returning to Secret World for the next stage of her rehabilitation, along with her new friend Amico.

The otters are continuing their rehabilitation together in Secret World’s dedicated otter enclosure. During this 18 month period they learn how to catch fish and develop their natural behaviour to ensure they are prepared for their release this year, when a suitable and safe site for them will be found.

As well as increased water bills, it costs around £450 per month to feed two adult otters – they get through a lot of fish! Secret World is looking for a sponsor for these two otters and interested individuals or companies can contact Samantha Hannay on 01278 783250.

For more information, visit the Secret World Wildlife Rescue website here.

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