The Amazon Giant Otter: an endangered species

Giant Otters

The giant otter is one of the striking species that can be found in the rivers of the Yasuní National Park. They are called like this since it measures between 1.5 and 1.8 m and weighs between 22 and 32 kg. much more than the others of its kind, which has given them a distinctive character.

Giant Otter 2

These adorable specimens of velvety and waterproof fur, brown in color, are also known by the native peoples as “river wolves” and it is not difficult to see them loitering among the tourists.

Part of the mustelid family, are related to weasels and ferrets, which is easy to guess to see the similarity they have in gestures and behaviors, despite living in different habitats. These, unlike, are characterized by being gaudy and extremely sociable with tourists and other local inhabitants.

As its name implies, the Giant Otter is the largest otter species in the world. Their long sinuous bodies, with reticulated feet and rudder tails make them great swimmers. Their huge eyes and whiskers help them to find fish, which make up almost the entirety of their diet.

Unfortunately, this species is extremely vulnerable in Ecuador, being in danger of extinction in the entire Amazon basin, mainly because of the indiscriminate hunting that was done in the past decades.

The recent collapse of the Giant Otter population has occurred for many reasons. From 1940 to 1970, the great otter was persecuted for its valuable fur. The commercialization of their skin was brought to public attention and since 1973 has been included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – CITES. In 2008, additionally, it was classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – IUCN.

However, although the local and international community is aware of the seriousness of the situation and in the taking of constant actions for their protection and conservation, the hunting of the Giant Otter still occurs.

Man, however, is not the only danger from which this species must take care.

Although it does not have important natural predators, there is another dangerous factor for them, the otters in the wild. The biggest threat to the species these days is the loss and contamination of the environment. The important metals of the mining companies (especially mercury) pollute the waters and accumulate inside the bodies of the large otters.

On the other hand, work operations and road construction cause erosion and with it an increase in sediments in rivers. This increases the turbidity of the water, also contaminating the fish, the main food of the otters.

This means that the situation is critical. There are only 250 sexually active specimens in the Republic of Ecuador and several of them are found in Yasuni, where they can be found around one hundred.

Although its tender appearance would suggest that it is a docile animal, this vertebrate that can sometimes even be domesticated, is a ferocious predator. It may not look like it in contrast to black alligators or jaguars. However, they are skilled at using their tail, claws and teeth to fight and catch their prey. In fact, they compete with the black alligator the first place for the main predator of the Amazon, with which many times it is faced.

The diet of the Giant Otter includes a variety of fish, such as piranhas, cichlids and catfish, as well as small crabs, small crocodiles and boa constrictors.

Although although they can be violent with some species, with the rest of the Giant Otters they are quite friendly. In general, this is a sociable animal, who likes to be accompanied by groups of up to 10, including his only partner and his offspring. Many times these families include siblings or parents, who are also welcome.

Another interesting fact about Pteronura brasiliensis is that they are truly dedicated to their partners. However sentimental it may seem, they are monogamous, which implies that they only have one partner for reproduction.

Scientists say that little is known about their life cycle and their reproduction in wild natural environments, since a large part of the information gathered about their behavior comes from otters studied in captivity.

Research is currently underway to determine the characteristics necessary to facilitate reproduction and help increase the number of Giant Otters in the Amazon. For this, the scientific community studies its diet, behavior, habitat and main threats, in order to understand them better and to recover this species, which is dangerously on the verge of extinction.

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