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Otter News 1999

Otters embrace urban life (BBC Dec 23, 1999)
California sea otters dropping in number (CNN Aug 22, 1999)
Otters claw their way back (BBC Jun 6, 1999)
Rivals compete to return otters to the Thames (Telegraph Mar 24, 1999)
Thames scheme to lure back otters (BBC Mar 23, 1999)
Restaurants in clear over toads' legs (Telegraph Jan 5, 1999)

News Index

Otters embrace urban life

(BBC Dec 23, 1999)

A pair of otters have bewildered naturalists by setting up home next to one of England's biggest shopping centres.

The rare aquatic mammals, which usually haunt only remote areas, are breeding on the River Tyne close to the Metro shopping centre in Gateshead.

Their home is in a small reed bed on the river where it runs between the shopping centre and an industrial estate and housing.

The otters set up home in the area 12 months ago and, to the amazement of wildlife experts, they have reared one cub.

Recovery programme

The mammal was close to extinction throughout Northumberland a decade ago.

A recovery programme was established on remote rivers and its success is believed to have led to the present breakthrough - forcing the animals into less-favoured and more unusual areas in which to breed.

Kevin O'Hara, who is responsible for the programme, said a clean-up of the once polluted River Tyne had provided an abundant supply of fish for the otters.

And the animals seem unperturbed by the noise and bustle of urban living so close to their home.

Indeed, a second female otter has recently joined the others in their urban home.

Original story

California sea otters dropping in number

(CNN Aug 22, 1999)

Intelligent and playful, the California sea otter is a curiosity to scientists as well as the general public. But the elusive animal is becoming more difficult to find in the wild.

While their cousins in Washington, Alaska and Canada are thriving, the number of California sea otters has declined 12 percent since 1995, with just over 2,000 remaining.

The rapid drop has prompted scientists to scramble for solutions, but they can't fix the problem until they understand exactly what is causing it. All they have so far are possibilities.

"Disease, contaminants, starvation and entanglement or entrapment in coastal fishing gear," offers Carl Benz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But the clock is ticking. The remaining otters are tightly concentrated from Santa Barbara to slightly south of San Francisco. One large oil spill could wipe out the entire population.

Searching for answers, institutions such as the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific shelter and study injured and orphaned otters. But the animals aren't always easy subjects to observe.

"We've seen them take nuts off of bolts. We've seen them open doors and walk out doors. We've seen them climb six-foot chain-link fences. These animals are probably ... one of the most challenging to work with in an environment like this," Curator Mark Ryan says.

Animal lovers may worry about the future of the California sea otter, but scientists warn humans could be in jeopardy too.

"We use the coastline as much as the sea otters. And we take fish from the water, we swim in the water, surf in the water. And what's happening to the sea otter could very well be happening to a much larger picture than just the animals themselves," Benz says.

Original story

Otters claw their way back

(BBC Jun 6, 1999)

Otters, once familiar residents of many British rivers, are beginning to reappear in some of their old haunts, say conservationists.

The government has set a target of restoring otters to all UK rivers by 2010. And the Wildlife Trusts say that goal "looks ever more achievable".

The Trusts, the national liaison body for the 46 county wildlife trusts, last year launched an Otters and Rivers Project with 20 full-time staff and more than 500 volunteers.

It is part of the government's UK Biodiversity Action Plan, a series of rescue programmes for endangered species and habitats.

Water UK, the water industry's representative body, is supporting the project with £1.5m in sponsorship.

Progress over past year

During the past year, the Trusts say in a progress report, areas to which otters have returned include several rivers in Norfolk and four tributaries of the upper Trent.

Water quality improvements have also enticed them back to a river they had abandoned in Warwickshire.

And for the first time in 20 years there has been a sighting - so far unconfirmed - of an otter in Poole Harbour in Dorset.

Elsewhere in the county there have been the first signs of otters in a quarter of a century. There has even been news of the animals at a sewage works on the outskirts of Derby.

The Director General of the Wildlife Trusts, Dr Simon Lyster, says: "Otters are fantastic indicators of the health of our rivers and waterways".

"So their success spells good news for other species too. Any work for otters not only helps safeguard their habitats, such as chalk rivers, ancient water meadows, reedbeds and fens, but it also benefits other endangered species.

"For example, a river harbouring otters may also be a haven for the water vole, the native white-clawed crayfish, and the freshwater pearl mussel."

Saved from virtual extinction

As recently as the 1950s, otters were common and widespread. But from then on they declined sharply, mainly because of pollution from farm pesticides, and habitat loss.

Twenty years ago the species was almost extinct in most of England, parts of Wales and some areas of Scotland.

But the otter's gradual return began with the phasing out of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, which with other chemicals built up in fish including eels, the otter's prey of choice.

The Trusts say the animal's distribution "is now wide but sporadic throughout the British Isles and Ireland".

"The strongest populations remain in Wales, southwest England and much of Scotland, where sea loch and coastal colonies are among the largest in Europe.

"There is also a significant population in northern Ireland."

Original story

Rivals compete to return otters to the Thames

(Telegraph Mar 24, 1999)

RIVAL bands of conservationists yesterday claimed to be bringing back the otter to the Thames after an absence of 20 years.

The Otter Trust, which has reintroduced more than 100 captive-bred otters to the wild since 1983, said it had introduced two Norfolk-bred otters to a secret location on the banks of a tributary in the upper catchment of the Thames, not far from the river.

The otters will be released after six weeks of acclimatisation. Coincidentally, a project designed to recreate an otter habitat on the Thames was also launched by Michael Meacher, environment minister, and Sir David Attenborough, vice-president of the Wildlife Trust.

The three-year scheme involves the planting of native trees and building otter holts along the river banks. It will cost £170,000 and is to be jointly managed by BBONT, the Wildlife Trust for Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and Surrey Wildlife Trust. The aim is to encourage further migration of otters from the south and west. This is already happening, with at least two wild otters in the Thames catchment. However, they are not yet breeding.

Alastair Driver, of the Environment Agency, which is supporting the Wildlife Trust scheme, said of the Otter Trust project: "We don't really agree with it. We'd like to know more about the genetic origin of the animals."

Philip Wayre, chairman of the Otter Trust, said: "The genetic origin is East Anglia, the same stock as the whole of lowland England. We're successful. That's what they don't seem to like." He pointed out that the decision to reintroduce otters to the Thames was taken at a meeting of an expert group at the headquarters of English Nature, the Government's conservation advisers, last year.

Original story

Thames scheme to lure back otters

(BBC Mar 23, 1999)

A new bid to lure back otters to the River Thames has been launched by top broadcaster and wildlife enthusiast Sir David Attenborough.

The project aims to encourage threatened species back to the river and its tributaries in Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, by improving the riverside habitat and water quality.

Sir David, Vice President of the Wildlife Trusts, was joined at Tuesday's launch by Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

They posed for photographers with two tame otters at Queen's Eyot near Maidenhead, Berkshire.

Wild otters were last known to live in the Thames in the 1970s, but damage to their natural habitats and the widespread use of agricultural pesticides led to a sharp drop in numbers.

Signs of otters have been found in the area in recent years, suggesting that a small number of transient otters are seeking territories in the Thames region.

The three-year project, which will cost £170,000, will involve local people in recovery efforts and in raising awareness of the plight of the otter.

It is part of the National Otter Biodiversity Action Plan launched by the government last summer.

The plan aims to restore breeding otters by 2010 to every watercourse and coastal area where they have been recorded since 1960.

Sir David said: "My hope is that otters will return to our rivers. The otter is one of our most enchanting animals.

"Everyone will benefit if we succeed in this. It is a chance for us to put right some of the damage done to our wildlife."

Original story

Restaurants in clear over toads' legs

(Telegraph Jan 5, 1999)

HERONS and otters were responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,500 toads blamed on restaurant owners seeking an alternative to frog's legs, an inquiry has found.

Stephen Hewitt, a naturalist with Carlisle city council and Paul Duff, a vet from Culgaith, Cumbria, launched an investigation in 1997 after more than 1,000 common toads were discovered dead or dying in southern Scotland and Cumbria. Nearly 400 were found in the same area the following year. All had their legs expertly removed.

Experts at London Zoo suspected that humans were responsible - possibly with connections in the restaurant trade. But after studying otter droppings and toad bodies, the two men have cleared humans of the killings. They wrote in the Veterinary Record that "the weight of evidence indicates that the deaths were caused by animal or bird attack rather than human attack".

Mr Hewitt said: "We are pretty certain that the toads were killed by otters or herons - possibly both. Studies of otter droppings showed traces of what appeared to be toads' bones. We have also heard reports of herons attacking toads."

Original story