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African Otters

Asian Otters

Find out more about our Asian projects (Helping Otters in Asia)

Asia is the home of five species of otter and more information is shown below:

Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)
Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata)
Hairy-nosed Otter (Lutra sumatrana)
Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinereus)
Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)


Species: Eurasian and Smooth-coated Otter

The Eurasian Otter can be found in rivers and lakes in the Zagros, Elburz and Koppe-Dagh mountain range and in the Iranian Azerbaijan. Otters are also found south of the Caspian Sea in the Golestan province.

The endemic species of Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli) is also present in the border region with Iraq. This was confirmed by a photo taken at Hoor Ol-Azim Wetland (Al Sheikhly et al. 2020, IOSF Journal Vol 6).

Legal Protection: Legally protected.

Threats: Pollution, habitat destruction and road mortality.


Species: Eurasian and Smooth-coated Otter (sub-species maxwelli, also called Maxwell’s Otter, Iraq Smooth-coated Otter, Mesopotamian Otter, Arabian Otter)

Both Eurasian and smooth-coated otters are present in Iraq and became very rare after the Iraqi marshlands inundation in 2003. The subspecies Maxwell’s Otter (L. p. maxwelli), “Iraq smooth-coated otter” is endemic to the Iraqi marshes and was named after Gavin Maxwell, the author of Ring of Bright Water, who discovered the species. Maxwell’s Otter is a flagship species for the country.

The numbers of both species decreased dramatically due to hunting, trapping, and habitat loss and destruction (i.e. marshland drainage). Adult otters are sometimes targeted by Marsh Arabs (hunters and local fishermen) in order to collect their fur, while their cubs are trapped to be raised as pets or trained to help anglers in fishing.

Photo courtesy of Omar Al-Sheikhly and Mukhtar Haba-Iraqi Green Climate Organization

Photographic evidence of both species was recently obtained. The first photographic record of smooth-coated otters in the wild was obtained from Al-Edheam Marsh at the northern edge of Hawizeh Marsh in southern Iraq in 2017. The Eurasian otter was photographed in the Al-Hammar Marsh (southern Iraq) in 2014 and at the Mosul Dam (northern Iraq) in 2017. It is hoped that the photographic record of the endemic smooth-coated otter will support the Mesopotamian Marshlands to persist and endure as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. (Source: Al-Sheikhly, O.F., Haba, M.K., Fazaa, N.A., Barbanera, F., et al. First photographic evidence of smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli) and Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra seistanica) in Iraq since 1950s. OTTER, The Journal of the International Otter Survival Fund Vol 3 pp 15-20)

Legal Protection: Iraqi legislation regulates hunting of both species under Iraqi wildlife protection law n. 17 issued in 2010.

The protection of otters is an environmental responsibility that needs to be achieved at a national level by Iraq. In 2013 the government made an important first step for the achievement of this goal by signing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Hence, restrictions against the illegal commerce of live otters as well as of their parts (e.g., skins) are in force, as the European and smooth-coated otter are listed in Appendix I and II, respectively.

Threats: Illegal hunting/trapping, habitat loss and fragmentation (marshlands drought)

2017 to present – Support for Omar Al-Sheikhly’s work on conservation of “Maxwell’s otters”, a sub-species of Smooth-coated Otter

2020 – Webinar presentation to support Iraqi efforts to sustain UNESCO nomination of the marshes


Species: Eurasian Otter.

Until the middle of the 20th century otters were abundant in Israel in all coastal rivers from the Lebanese border in the north to the Soreq river in the south as well as along the Jordan river including the Hula Lake and the sea of Galilee. Surveys in the 1990s found it had virtually gone from the coastal areas with healthy populations in the Jordan river catchments including Lake Tiberias and an estimate of the total Israel population is only about 100.

It would seem that the main otter population in Israel is in the Hula Valley and Jordan River highlands. A survey in 2014 examined 106 sites in these two areas as well as the Golan Heights, the Lake Kinneret basin, the Jordan Valley, the Harod Valley and the Beit She’an Valley. This revealed a serious decline in populations:

In the Hula Valley and Jordan River highlands numbers were down by approximately 9% as compared with 2013.

The Lake Kinneret basin and Jordan Valley sites showed a sharp drop of 18%.

For the fourth consecutive year there were no otter signs in the Jezreel and Zevulun valleys.

For the third consecutive year there were no otter signs in the Harod and Beit She’an valleys.

For the first time since 2000, there were no signs of otters in the Golan Heights.

As a result otters are now defined as a Critically Endangered species in Israel and certain important conservation steps have been recommended: establishing a breeding nucleus to help populations to recover, restoring ecological corridors to connect otter communities, restoring abandoned bodies of water and wetland habitats.

To read more click here.

Legal Protection: Protected..

Threats: Pollution, habitat destruction and road mortality.


Species: Eurasian Otter.

Jordan is at the south eastern border of the North African range of the Eurasian otter. There are not many permanent waterways in Jordan and in 2000 a field survey was carried out on the Rivers Yarmuk, Jordan and Zarka, where there were reports of otters. Signs were found on the Yarmuk and Jordan but nothing on the Zarka. Little further work has been done.

Legal Protection: Protected

Threats: Pollution and accidental deaths in fish traps.


Species: Eurasian Otter.

Otters are very rare in Lebanon but are known to breed in the Bekaa wetlands and Chouor reserve ( They are also recorded from Anjar (Society for the Protection of Nature of Lebanon, Otters use the Litani river and its tributaries and were filmed raiding trout at a restaurant fish pond at Al-Jazeerah.

IOSF Journal Vol 5

Legal Protection: Not known.

Threats: Not known.


Species: Eurasian Otter

The Palestine Wildlife Society report the Eurasian Otter as being present but declining in the Dead Sea and Jordan River area. No mention of status or populations.

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Not known


Species: Eurasian otter.

Used to be common on the river Euphrates from Deir ez-Zor up to Abu Kamal (at the Iraqi border), Al Mayaddin and Doura Europos, but not in the NW area of Raqqa. They were reported in the Khabur valley, in NE Syria, and were present on an island in the Euphrates at Doura Europos, from Halabiyyeh and from Tell Sheikh, along the river Khabur. However, it seems that numbers have dropped over the last 40 years following construction of the Tabagua dam.

In April 2001 there was a confirmed record from Dr Andwan Shehab who saw an otter in a branch of the Al Yarmouk river, near Al Qunietera, 50km from Damascus. More recent data is scarce.

There is no evidence of the presence of the subspecies of smooth-coated otter (Maxwell’s otter, Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli) which is found in neighbouring Iraq and also Iran.

Legal Protection: Not known.

Threats: Habitat destruction, sand extraction, pollution, urbanisation, conflicts with fishermen, illegal hunting.