Search for rescued otters’ mother proves unsuccessful

2017-12-11 14:25
These three young otters were rescued on the banks of the Umgeni River and are being rehabilitated at FreeMe KZN in Howick.

These three young otters were rescued on the banks of the Umgeni River and are being rehabilitated at FreeMe KZN in Howick. (Supplied)

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Four-month-old Juliet and six-month-old Oberon and Othello are the newest residents to occupy the staff at FreeMe KZN, Howick.

The young otters were rescued, on two separate occasions, along the Umgeni River in Howick.

Kirsten Steytler, the clinic manager who is in charge of small predators at FreeMe, said: “All three came in dehydrated and weak.”

The otters were found wandering around without their mother in the middle of the day.

“This is very unusual,” she said, “as pups will only venture out of their den with their mother at that age.”

Steytler speculated that the pups must have been hungry enough to be forced to go searching for food alone.

While many attempts were made by FreeMe KZN to return them to their mother, they were unsuccessful.

“We searched the river and surrounding areas for signs of otters or den sites but unfortunately we found no signs of recent activity,” Steytler said, adding that they took the otter pups out each night for five nights, hoping that their calls would attract their mother. “Sadly, she never came.”

While the ultimate goal is to return the otters to the wild, the rehabilitation process is lengthy.

“Otters do not instinctively swim and surprisingly do not like fish the first time they try it,” Steytler said. “This means that we need to help them along these learning curves. Our little female has picked up on things extremely quickly and is teaching the males.”

The pups still needed to be bottle fed when they first came in, but have now graduated to large pieces of fish and crab “which they thoroughly enjoy”.

Steytler said they are getting close to weaning age and are eating up to seven fish a day.

“We rely on donations of freshly caught fish from the public. We don’t use store-bought fish as they contain hormones,” she said.

The otters will go through a soft release, which means that they will be put in an enclosure that will be erected at the release site, so that they can become accustomed to their surroundings before the final release.

FreeMe would like the enclosure to be on a dam to allow the otters the opportunity to catch their own food.

“We are in the process of finding them the correct release site, which can be quite tricky as we want as little human interference as possible.

“We will not settle for anything less than perfect for them,” Steytler added.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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