A closer look at river otter populations

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The lontra canadensis has been spotted near the Big Sioux River by in eastern South Dakota. That’s the scientific name for the Northern River Otter.

The Northern River Otter is listed as a threatened species in the state, according to the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department.

KELOLAND News reported on Feb. 5 that local residents and GFP officials have spotted the otters by the river.

The river is a natural choice for the active mammals to live.

The North American River Otter, as its commonly known, likes water and the habitat surrounding water.

While the region experienced some temperatures in the 30s and above for several days before Feb. 5, the otter doesn’t mind the cold. They do not hibernate.

A thick fur keeps them warm in the cold, even in cold water.

Photos and video with KELOLAND’s Don Jorgensen’s story showed a trail in the snow resembling a slide that otters used to slide into the river.

Otters are known for their play.

River otters. Photo from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department’s 2012 otter management plan.

“River otters are especially playful, gamboling on land and splashing into rivers and streams,” National Geographic said on its website page dedicated to river otters.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, otters can slide faster than they can run. And they can run as fast as 15 miles per hour.

All that sliding and play is important to social interaction, according to studies on otters.

Studies of otters have described them as curious and intelligent with a tendency to investigate and explore their surroundings and items around them.

Like ducks, otters have webbed feet that help them swim, according to National Geographic. They can also hold their breath under water for up to eight minutes.

Water is also key to reproduction.

The North American River Otter Husbandry Handbook of 2008 said otters mostly copulate in the water. A general litter of otters is two to three pups.

When an otter needs to eat or feed the family, it gets help from its long whiskers. The whiskers detect prey in the water.

The otter will eat aquatic plants, fish, crayfish and other aquatic life but they will also eat other small mammals such as muskrats or rabbits, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

When dining is completed, an otter may poo. That poo smells like jasmine tea, according to the Wildlife Trust.

GFP officials told KELOLAND News that the agency is considering removing the otter from the protection list.

The otter was placed on the state’s threatened species list after trapping and loss of habitat reduced its numbers.

The U.S. Forest Service estimated the river otter population in South Dakota at 100 in 2006. The estimate was part of a river otter study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service.

The apparent resurgence appears to be traced, in part, to an effort by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. From 1998 to 2000, the Santee Sioux introduced 34 river otters into the Big Sioux River area near Flandreau. Seventeen were released in 1998 and 17 were released in 1999-2000, the GFP’s 2012 Northern River Otter Management Plan.

This map of otter observations from 1979-2011 is from the GFP’s 2012 otter wildlife management plan.

The GFP worked with research teams from South Dakota State University to determine otter numbers and if re-introduction was feasible.

The South Dakota Natural Heritage Program (SDHNP) had been recording otter sightings for a number of years and that data was referred to in the GFP management plan.

From 1979 to 2011, the SDNHP database contained 170 recordings of otters, the GFP 2012 management plan said. Forty-seven percent of the reported river otter observations occurred in the counties of Moody, Roberts and Grant. The high number of sightings in those counties were attributed to the Santee Sioux effort.

This is a chart of otter observations in South Dakota from 1979 to 2011. The chart is from recordings by the South Dakota National Heritage Program and was included in the 2012 South Dakota River Otter Management Plan.

The goal of the 2012 otter wildlife management plan was to “manage river otter populations with scientifically sound data and techniques to encourage occupation of suitable available habitats in South Dakota. River otter populations will be enhanced to justify delisting and to provide sustainable use and enjoyment within the social tolerance level for this species.”

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