The otter is animal of the year 2021


Otter (Image: Cloudtail_the_Snow_Leopard / iStock)

The otter is a true all-rounder: it is a master swimmer, fish lover, country hunter and fur bearer. And because this water marten is so versatile, the German Wildlife Foundation has now named it Animal of the Year 2021. With the award, the organization would also like to draw attention to how endangered otters and their habitats are.

The otter (Lutra lutra) is the largest native species of marten. The loner is active at night and at dawn and lives in water as well as on land. That is why natural lakes and rivers with hiding spots on their banks are its preferred habitats. He hunts for fish with his webbed toes and uses his tactile rods to track down amphibians even in murky water. At the same time, however, it is also on land in the dense vegetation on the banks in search of insects or frogs, for example. During the day, however, the otter hides in its self-made burrows on the shore.

Raise awareness of threat

Now the German Wildlife Foundation has crowned this fascinatingly versatile water marten “Animal of the Year 2021”. But there is another reason behind the award: “The German Wildlife Foundation has chosen the otter as Animal of the Year 2021 to draw attention to how endangered it and its habitats are,” explains Hilmar Freiherr von Münchhausen from the Wildtier Foundation .

Because although the full-grown otter has hardly any natural enemies in Germany, the marten populations have declined sharply in the past, so that the fish hunter was threatened long before extinction. The water martens usually suffered from their unique fur: with their 70,000 hairs per square centimeter of skin, the otters are considered to be the native wild animals with the thickest fur anywhere. At the beginning of the 20th century, otters were therefore still hunted by humans in order to process this fur into valuable furs. The animals were also seen as pests and killed because they used fish ponds.

Even today dangers lurk

According to the experts, it is difficult to estimate how many otters there are currently in Germany. The only thing that is certain is that the marten is more common in eastern Germany than in the rest of Germany, reports the Wildlife Foundation. There is also a tendency to further spread. But despite the population increase in recent years, the otter is included in the Red List of Germany’s most endangered animal species in the threatened category. The reason: The versatile fish lovers are still exposed to dangers in many places.

Today, polluted waters often threaten the survival of the otter. “The water marten can only find sufficient food in clean waters with structured bank margins,” explains Münchhausen. “Unfortunately, these habitats are rare in our cultural landscape.” In search of fish, crabs, snails and the like, the master swimmer repeatedly ends up in fish traps. He gets stuck in the tight braids of thread, can no longer free himself and suffocates. And the often built-up and canalised watercourses, drained wetlands and the destruction of the riparian zones reduce the chance of survival of this species. In many parts of Germany, such as in Rhineland-Palatinate, the otter is still extinct as a result of this landscape destruction.

However, the greatest danger today is road traffic, emphasize the representatives of the Wildlife Foundation. Because otters generally shy away from swimming under bridges. Instead, they leave the water to bypass the bridges over land. But since many roads cut the walking corridors along the water, the martens often cross the road, getting under vehicles and being run over.

Active protection required

In order to save the otter from extinction in the future, active protective measures are necessary. The fish hunters are dependent on habitats that are as natural as possible with bodies of water on whose banks they can hide. The water quality should also be improved in order to increase the population of prey such as fish again, the Wildtier Stiftung demands. For this, pollutant yields would have to be reduced, new bodies of water created and existing ones restored. In managed waters, metal grids – so-called otter crosses – in the entrance of fish traps can prevent otters from entering. A special trap exit is also a possible protective measure in fisheries. In addition, electric fences already keep fish lovers away from cultivated breeding ponds.

In order to minimize the danger in road traffic, the German Wildlife Foundation is committed to building so-called berms. “These are narrow paths made of wooden planks that are laid out like a catwalk and that the otter can use to run under the bridge with dry feet,” explains Münchhausen. “An otter-friendly design of bridges is necessary in order to protect the otter from the impending accidental death in traffic.” Because only if the water marten can cross a bridge dry, it no longer chooses the dangerous route over the streets.

Source: German Wildlife Foundation

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