Giant Otters in Peru

Find out more about otters in Peru

The local evocative name for one of the most spectacular mammals of the Amazon is the giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis).

This highly intelligent, extremely social, and simply charming freshwater predator nearly vanished completely due to relentless fur trade during the 20th century. However, decades after the trade ban on this species, the giant river otter is reappearing, at least in protected areas.

A new study published in PLOS ONE estimates that the species’ population has fully recovered across most of its habitat within Peru’s Manu National Park. During the first year of the study, the evaluated area had 49 individuals, which fell to 42 in 1994. Nevertheless, the population increased considerably after that: in 2004 with 88 individuals before dropping to 81 in 2006, the final year of the study.

A couple of laid-down otters relax by the river.
A couple of laid-down otters relax by the river.

Recovery Measures

She added, “The current results suggest a return to carrying capacity after decades, since the environmental capacity hasn’t increased. Manu’s area has been protected since 1973 when the park was established)”. Groenendijk states that the species’ recovery is due to three measures. The first was the ban on commercial hunting of giant river otters in 1993. This with CITES’ decision to include the species in Appendix I, essentially prohibiting its international trade.

After that came the creation of big safeguarded zones holding remaining otter populations, Manu included,” Groenendijk expressed. “These areas, due to conservation choices and national land-use planning, were vital for stabilizing populations.”

Lastly, she notes recent zoning and habitat plans aiding the giant river otter’s rebound.The research covered the park’s premier otter habitats, including all oxbow lakes – another favored spot. Groenendijk estimated the total park population at 100-130, making up around 22 family groups.While numbers encouragingly increased in this region, it doesn’t mean the species is out of peril.

The giant river otter, oldest mustelid (even more than sea otters), is currently Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Though ranging north of the Guiana Shield and south of Brazil’s Pantanal, it remains highly threatened by deforestation, overfishing, pollution and disease. The IUCN estimates only 1,000-5,000 exist globally. Even in Manu National Park, human activities endanger the species according to Groenendijk.

The park lies both in Peru’s Madre de Dios and Cusco department. This region sees an influx of natural resources exploiting like gold mining and logging.

A small pack of otters sleep over a floating trunk over the Madre de Dios River.
A small pack of otters sleep over a floating trunk over the Madre de Dios River.

Optimal Spots for Giant Otters in Peru

To ensure a long-term future for giant river otters and maintain genetic diversity, its’s argued that a population of at least 500 individuals scattered across their range is needed. Madre de Dios region may be the best bet, according to the conservationist.

“The Madre de Dios river itself, which is twice as wide as the Manu river, offers the highest quality habitat. Large oxbow lakes and wetlands could support large groups of giant otters with a high reproductive rate and potentially the largest subpopulation in the basin,”

The Madre de Dios floodplain is also a natural corridor for giant otters. Manu, Los Amigos, Heath and other tributaries could disperse here.

If you’re eager of experiencing an encounter with these or many other animals that inhabit the lush Peruvian rainforest. Don’t hesitate much more and join us for a unique experience in the Amazon rainforest. Contact us today for more information and enjoy your day!

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