Supporting International Otter Survival Fund

Supporting International Otter Survival Fund

The latest conservation project we are supporting, from July to September 2019, is International Otter Survival Fund. Our donation will contribute towards the rehabilitation of orphaned and injured otters at their rescue and rehabilitation centre on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

European river otter (Lutra lutra) cub amongst kelp on shoreline, Shetland Isles, Scotland, UK, October.
European river otter (Lutra lutra) cub amongst kelp on shoreline, Shetland Isles, Scotland, UK, October.

The International Otter Survival Fund

The International Otter Survival Fund is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the world’s 13 species of otter. They work globally with local communities to educate, inform and encourage the protection and conservation of otters. Through a number of projects – research, reducing illegal trade, rehabilitation and education – IOSF is raising the profile of otters and the need to conserve them.

The rehabilitation project we are supporting

One of IOSF’s programmes is their rescue and rehabilitation centre on  Skye. Here they care for orphaned and injured otters from across the UK and Ireland with a view to their eventual release. To date, they have cared for over 200 otters. Each otter cub stays with its mother for between 12-15 months. Therefore cubs stay with IOSF for the same period of time, which costs around £1,600 up to release, including vets bills, food and bedding.

Otter species and distribution

Otters are members of the mustelid family that includes Weasels, Badgers and Martens. There are 13 distinct species ranging from the Giant otter of South America to the much smaller Asian small-clawed otter. Otters mainly inhabit freshwater lakes, rivers, and other wetland areas. While not hunting for small fish and crustaceans, they live in dry burrows or dens, sometimes inhabiting those constructed by other animals such as beavers. The Sea otter is the exception to this rule. It spends most of its time hunting for shellfish among the giant kelp forests off the coast of Alaska, Russia and California. A group of otters on land is called a romp or a bevy and while on the water, a raft. Check out our new expanded otter gallery to find out more about the various otter species.

Otter adaptations

Otters have various specialist adaptations to allow them to thrive in their environment. These include the ability to seal their ears and nose, in order not to let in water while they dive for food. In addition, they  have the densest fur of any animal, at between 250,000 and 1,000,000 hairs per square inch, to keep them warm in the water. Baby otter pups are born without the ability to swim, but are naturally buoyant. Sea otter mothers regularly wrap their offspring in kelp to hold them in place while they go off to hunt.

Otters regularly use tools such as sharp stones to break open the hard-shelled prey they catch such as clams and crabs. They can easily eat up to 15 percent of their body weight each day.

Otters use their dung – known as spraint – to communicate with other otters.  Spraint scents can vary, but often are (relatively) pleasant. One expert described them as resembling jasmine tea. Spraint composition is unique to each animal, and otters can identify each other by the smell.

Conservation status

Most otter species are near threatened, vulnerable or endangered, according to the IUCN Red List. Populations of all otters are decreasing, except for the North American river otter, which is listed as stable. The endangered species are the giant otter, hairy-nosed otter, marine otter, South American river otter and sea otter. Sea otters are estimated to have undergone a decline of over 50 percent over the past 45 years, according to the IUCN.

River otters need clean water and an abundance of prey, and so they are sensitive to disruptions in river systems. As at top predator, they are among the first species to disappear from a polluted watershed. Whether due to pollution, loss of prey or habitat fragmentation, the disappearance of otters is a warning sign that there is something very wrong in an aquatic ecosystem.


Looking for an otter-related gift? Why not check out the otter gallery on our dedicated prints site?