There are 13 different species of otters in the world, and they live on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Despite being one of the most adorable animals, several species of otters have been threatened with extinction.
The Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter species, and arguably the cutest. Its population continues to decline, largely due to extensive hunting and loss of habitat.
Characteristics of Asian Small-Clawed Otters
The Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) is a semiaquatic mammal that spends more time on land than any other type of otter species. They have dark brown fur with a dense, two-layered pelt that keeps them warm and dry in the water.
Asian small-clawed otters are carnivores, and they mostly eat crustaceans and mollusks, but they also eat fish, insects, and amphibians.
These otters are very communicative, and they use at least twelve different vocalizations to communicate with each other, and in zoos, with humans. They use sounds to greet each other, sound alarms, and much more.
Small-clawed otters live in Asia and India, and make their homes in streams, rivers, marshes, and sea coasts. Many Asian small-clawed otters live in zoos & aquariums, but scientists estimate that there are only about 5,000 of these adorable pups left in the wild.
Threats to Asian Small-Clawed Otters
There are five species of otters in Asia, and they are all experiencing declining numbers. There are several threats to Asian small-clawed otters and raising awareness about these threats could help play a role in protecting all otters in Asia.
Here are some of the causes attributed to the decline of small-clawed otters:
- Extensive hunting or poaching for pelts,
- Animal trafficking, mostly in Asian countries,
- Reduced prey numbers due to pollution,
- Destruction of habitat due to development,
- Loss of hill streams, one of their primary habitats,
- Increased aquaculture in their habitat regions, and
- Pesticides used in coffee and tea plantations in their habitat.
These are the main threats to Asian small-clawed otters. As their numbers continue to decline, reducing these threats will become more critical.
What Are Apex Predators?
All otter species are apex predators, which means that they are at the top of the food chain in their native habitat. To qualify as an apex predator, an animal must be one that hunts other species but is not preyed upon itself.
Apex predators keep the species that they hunt in check, and the loss of an apex predator in an ecosystem can have a significant impact on the environment and the species that live there. When an apex predator is removed from the food chain, the species that they prey upon can breed out of control and cause unforeseen damage to habitat.
Asian small-clawed otters are an important species because they are extremely sensitive to disturbances in their habitat. This makes them an indicator species that can inform scientists about the health of an entire ecosystem.
Breeding Small Clawed Otters in Captivity
In the 1980s, before small-clawed otters numbers dropped significantly, scientists developed a Species Survival Program plan to learn how to breed them in captivity. The goal was to learn how to breed small-clawed otters so that other, more endangered otter species could be saved.
Today, Asian small-clawed otters are often raised in captivity, even though it requires special knowledge and techniques. Efforts to bring other otter species back from the brink of extinction have also been successful.
Raising Awareness About Endangered and Threatened Species
There are around 40,000 endangered or threatened species around the world, and as habitats continue to be encroached upon or polluted by humans, these animal species are still at risk.
When raising awareness about conservation, animals like the super cute Asian small-clawed otter have an important role to play. You can help save them by sharing how important it is to protect their habitat.