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Southern [=Patagonian] River Otter

Lutra provocax

Status: Endangered
Listed: June 14, 1976
Family: Mustelidae (Weasels and otters)
Description: Very dark brown coat, with a cinnamon underbody.
Habitat: Freshwater streams and lakes.
Food: Crayfish, mussels, and fish.
Reproduction: One to five, usually two to three, young.
Threats: Hunting for its fur and loss of habitat.
Range: Argentina and Chile.

Description

Southern river otters, Lutra provocax, are 22.5-27.5 inches long, not counting their tails, which add 13.5-18 inches. Their fur is notably soft and is laid sleekly back along the body. The coat is very dark brown overall, with the underbody being a somewhat lighter cinnamon. A good swimmer that can spend two minutes underwater, the southern river otter has heavily webbed feet for swimming. Its claws are strong. Adapted to living much of its life in water, the southern river otter is shaped like a cylinder, with a sleek head for slipping through the water. Its muzzle is broad and whiskered; naturalists use the shape of the muzzle to distinguish the southern river otter from other otter species. Its ears are small, rounded, and set back on the head, adding to the head's streamlined appearance.

Behavior

Almost nothing is recorded about the southern river otter's behavior. It is probably (based on few observations) a solitary animal that only socializes during periods of mating, when males and females can be seen frolicking together; play seems to be an important part of the mating process. Young are probably cared for by the mother alone, but it is possible that, instead, family units form with the father participating in the care of the young.

The southern river otter requires freshwater to survive and cannot tolerate polluted water. It is probably mostly nocturnal, but it has been seen moving about in daylight. When active, it hunts in water. Its primary foods are aquatic: crayfish, mussels, and fish. It captures its prey with its mouth rather than its paws. The forepaws are dexterous and good at holding and manipulating objects. When resting, the southern river otter apparently seeks refuge in heavy ground cover along the water's edge.

Habitat

The southern river otter lives near fresh, unpolluted water with heavy ground cover along the shores. The climate varies from hot to cold.

Distribution

The southern river otter ranges from central through southern Chile and in southwestern Argentina. It survives in Argentina only in two widely separated areas; it has lost the northern part of its range in Chile, and in the south it is restricted primarily to Andean river basins.

Threats

The southern river otter's coat is valuable, and, as a consequence, it has been hunted into near extinction and eliminated from most of its former range. It has lost much of its northern habitat to agriculture and water pollution.

Conservation and Recovery

Illegal hunting is the greatest problem the southern river otter presently faces; law enforcement need to be tightened to help it, and it needs reserves that can be protected from poachers. It is listed in CITES, Appendix I: Trade Prohibited. By international treaty, this listing prohibits trade in the southern river otter or its body parts, including its coat, but most of the poaching is done by domestic hunters.

Source: Beacham's Guide to International Endangered Species, Gale Group. 1998.

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