Sunday, April 14, 2013

Giant River Otter

The giant river otter (Pteronura brasilienssis), also known as the South American otter, is a species of otter found only in South America. It is rated as 'Endangered' by the IUCN.

Physical Features
The giant river otter is the longest member of the weasel family (Mustelidae).  Their body length ranges from 5 feet to 6 feet.  They can weigh about 25 kg to 34 kg making them one of the largest of the weasel family, second only to the sea otter.  Females are smaller than males.  They swim with the help of their strong tail and flexible bodies.  Giant river otters can close their ears and nostrils when underwater.  Their water repellent fur keeps them warm and dry while their webbed feet help them to swim.  They have brown and glossy fur which appears to be black when wet.  These otters can have a white or creamy throat and nose.

Giant river otter feeding
The main constituent element of a giant river otter's diet is fish.  These otters eat about three to four kilograms of food each day.  They either hunt alone or in groups.  Giant river otters even eat crustaceans, snakes and other river creatures.  When they hunt in groups, they have to make sure that sufficient amount of prey is caught in order to meet the requirements of each individual.

Distribution and Habitat
The giant river otter used to be distributed over most of tropical South America till the south of Argentina, but now is restricted to some rivers and creeks of Rio de la Plata, Amazon and Orinoco river systems.  They may even live in swamps, especially in forested areas.

The giant river otter lives in family groups mostly in the water.  They are very vocal animals, making either whistling noises or barks.  They are diurnal

Females come ashore to give birth.  They retreat into dens and have litters of 1 to 5 young ones each year after a gestation period of 65 to 70 days.  The young ones live in the den for a month or so and grow very fast.  Within nine to ten months, it is not easy to differentiate between the mother and the child.  These otters mature at the age of 2 years and live for more than 14 years in captivity.  Their life expectancy in wild is almost the same.

Conservation Status
The giant river otter once was widespread throughout the tropical freshwater areas of South America but now has decreased greatly.  There are only a few thousand of these river otters remaining in wild.  They are the rarest species of otter.  Their numbers have decreased due to hunting and destruction of habitat.

Pic 1 was taken by my sister
Source of pic 2

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