Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ABC Wednesday: G is for Giant Otter

Giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) are also called River Wolfs and they are the largest of the Mustelidae, the weasel family - adults can reach a length of up to 6'/180 cm. In the wild, they are found in South America, for example along the Amazon. Only about 50 individuals live in captivity and only about 5000 animals in the wild, although the number may be much smaller.

They are very social, which is extremely unusual for mustelids. A groups normally has a breeding pair and their offspring, although several family groups may live together. The young otter leave the group when they are sexually mature at two or three years of age. Normal group size is about eight individuals and they do everything together, hunting, playing, sleeping ect. The white patch on the throat is unique for each individual.

They enjoy playing even as adults and interact with each other a lot. Giant otters are a very vocal species, here is a video where you can see a group playing with each other and you can hear some of the sounds they make.

These sleek, muscular animals are excellent swimmers and underwater hunters. They feed mainly on fish, including piranha, but will also take crabs, birds and small mammals. A group hunts together and will cooperate to catch their prey and so they can take on much bigger animals such as caiman or anacondas. Their huge webbed feet and fan-like tail, which you can see very well in this video, give them a great turn of speed underwater.

They have no natural enemies, but humans destroy their habitat by logging and polluting the water. Another problem is that the otters are shy and easily disturbed, especially when raising their young. Even a group of tourists that do nothing but watch may be too much. In zoos, a breeding pair needs a lot of privacy even though they are normally used to humans being around. My photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark, the first zoo outside of South America who managed to breed Giant Otters in 1990 and has a successfully breeding pair since 2005, with their offspring living in many other zoos.

See what else G stands for at ABC Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Giant Otter Research
International Otter Survival Fund

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