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About Otters

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Why are Otters so important?

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Otters Around the World

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African Otters

Asian Otters

Why are Otters so important?

It is widely recognised that wetlands are amongst the most biodiverse and economically valuable habitats and yet they continue to decline – indeed it is estimated that since pre-industrial times this decline has been as much as 87% worldwide. Human use of wetlands can have a serious impact on biodiversity, and it is often the poorest people who rely on this source for an income.

Otters are top predators using both terrestrial and aquatic environments and their loss has a serious impact on local food webs, biodiversity and habitat relationships.

Otters live in many different aquatic environments – coastal, estuaries, rivers, lakes, canals, marshes, etc. They need good water quality and also unpolluted, natural land habitat in which to live. This is essential for all species, including our own, and so they are excellent environmental indicators.

13 Species of Otter

There are 13 species of otter in the world and they are all in the Red List of Threatened Species. For more information on these species click here All are declining in number except the North American river otter which is regarded as stable. However, even this is questionable as tens of thousands are killed LEGALLY each year by trapping.

Otters are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australasia. In the past there have been many problems including hunting for fur and pollution. Let’s take a look at the Eurasian otter as an example:

Sad decline in Europe

It was not until the middle of the 20th century that people recognised that otters in Europe were disappearing very quickly and this was linked to pollution. Various chemicals (organochlorines) were used in agriculture and they were getting into the environment. Together with PCBs and heavy metals these were affecting not just otters but also birds at the top of the food chain, such as peregrine falcons. These chemicals were even appearing in human milk!

So people began to understand how important it is to look after the quality of our environment.


As the water quality in Europe improved so various species started to recover, including the otter. However, the recovery of the otter has not been as rapid as suggested in the media because they breed slowly and generally don’t have a long life span.

In Belarus it has been found that if you encourage beavers it will improve the environment for other species, such as otters. Yet another example of the fascinating interaction of species.

Current Global Threats

There are still many threats facing otters worldwide today:

  • Pollution - Microplastics, chemical spills, agricultural and industrial waste, litter, Although we have learnt some lessons we still don’t know much about the cocktail effect of the mixture of chemicals.

  • Habitat loss - Spreading urbanisation, drainage of wetlands, dam construction, removal of bankside vegetation, etc.

  • Human disturbance - Increased noise, boating activity and sand mining.

  • Roads - Many otters die on the roads as they attempt to move about in their home range.

  • Competition with fisheries - This can lead to hunting supplying the illegal wildlife trade. In some countries legal culls are now being authorised, e.g. Austria.
  • Trapping - Otters are now protected by law in many countries but in North America 50,000 otters are killed legally by trapping. Click here for more information.

  • Illegal trade - For furs and pets. Click here for more information.

But the biggest problem of all is LACK OF AWARENESS - in some countries people don’t even know they are there so how can they be protected? We have to raise the awareness of people worldwide so that they understand that otters are not only wonderful creatures, but they are a barometer to the health of the environment.

Our responsibility

The link between the otter and wetlands is clear and it is our duty to work to protect these important ecosystems to the benefit of otters, other wetland species, and ultimately ourselves.

Click here to see how you can help.