By Annette J Beveridge
River contamination, habitat degradation and overfishing are all familiar stories but for the Giant River Otter, these pressures impact heavily. Found in the Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata, there may only be 5,000 animals left in the wild. These low numbers are indicative of hunting where the otter pelt was once sought after. Fortunately, action taken in the 1970’s made this unappealing economically, but the slow reproductive maturity hinders the recovery process.
Giant River Otters are the largest of the mustelid family which includes ferrets and weasels, and they weigh a considerable 22 – 32 kg. They grow up to 1.8 metres in length. Often referred to as the river wolf, Giant River Otters are top predators with a streamlined body and webbed feet. They are agile swimmers, taking fish such as piranhas, Amazonian catfish but crustaceans and even snakes will make it onto the menu.
Their whiskers enable them to detect vibrations from prey underwater which helps them to find and consume up to 9lbs of food per day each.