On 13th June my friend Margot who lives in Lakeside phoned late one evening to say there was a small animal – she suspected it was an otter – lying under a bush on her pavement.  The neighbour’s dogs were barking at it and a group of people had gathered round.  She had already phoned the SPCA but  they did not have a car available!  What should she do?  I was not home and did not have Nicola Okes the otter researcher’s number with me so I directed Margot to the Scenic South Website.  She found Nicola’s contact details and while waiting for Nicola Margot managed to get the terrified little animal into a box where the dark quiet space calmed it.  Nicola confirmed it was a Cape Clawless Otter and as it was a male sub-adult (approx 8 months – 1 year) it was probably one of the Zandvlei pups lakeside otter june 2012 photo by Nicola Okesthat she had been monitoring.  Sadly the otter had a very badly broken leg and although Nicola took it to the SPCA Wildlife Unit it had to be euthanized.  It was not possible to tell how the otter had broken its leg but it is highly likely that it was hit by a car or a bicycle. Photo of LHS of the injured young otter being transported to the SPCA Wildlife Unit.

Although the Lakeside otter could not be saved, it is imperative that the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Unit be contacted by anyone who finds injured otters (or other animals) in the Peninsula.  They can be called on 021 700 4158/9 or, after hours on 083 526 1604.  As the unit operates over a vast area with just two fully equipped emergency vehicles people are requested to bring smaller and harmless injured animals to the Centre themselves so that the vehicles are available for call outs for large or dangerous animals. More info about the Unit at the end of this article.

Otters at Risk on our Roads

Otters living in the Cape Peninsula are exposed to a number of risks, a significant one being the risk of injury or worse on busy roads.  Otters are particularly at risk due to:

a)      the fact that they are active dawn and dusk and therefore at times when visibility on the roads is poor, and

b)      the fact that otters are dependent on their parents for approximately a year after which males will disperse and in moving to find new territories they are exposed to risks associated with crossing roads and moving through built up areas.

Sadly with increasing urbanisation and development especially in coastal and wetland areas, the chances of an otter being hit by a car is increasing.  This is especially true in late Autumn, Winter and early Spring.  In these seasons the times when otters are active in the early morning and late evening shifts to overlap more directly with commuter travelling times.  Hot spots for otter encounters include areas where roads cut between the sea and wetlands e.g. at Clovelly, Glencairn, Kommetjie road near Ocean View and along the Liesbeek Parkway.

Road Kill stats from Iziko Museum.

Over the last 20 years, records from Iziko Museum show that of the 42 otters in their collection, 15 of these were road kill or died of related injuries (35%).  Of these 15 otters most were adults (6 females, only one of which was a sub-adult; 9 males one of which was a juvenile and 3 sub-adults). SOURCE: Iziko Museum, South Africa Museums.

Most of the otters hit by cars were found on roads very close to their natural habitat and could have been dispersing from the site where they were born or following rivers upstream between foraging trips.  For example, the Lakeside otter was found less than a kilometre from where a family of otters are living in the Westlake Pond.

Otter Research in the Cape Peninsula

Nicola Okes is a PhD student studying otters in the Cape Peninsula. As part of the research, camera traps were used to monitor the Westlake otters between July 2011 and February 2012.  Photos of otters triggering the camera traps suggest that a litter of 3 otter pups was born between September and November last year. It is highly likely that the otter found injured in Lakeside was one of the litter.

Nicola’s research is investigating otter spatial ecology and how the Peninsula otter population is being affected by pollution. As one part of the data collection, the Peninsula Otter Watch was developed as a tool to collect information on where otters are living in the Cape. The Peninsula Otter Watch asks any residents to please report sightings online at www.nicolaokes.co.za: Please submit sightings of otters, their tracks, scat with photos and GPS location, time of day and behaviour. Any dead otters found to be reported immediately to Nicola (0829619082 or email Nicola)  For more info about Nicola’s research, sitings by locals and how to become an Otter Spotter click here to read more: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/03/cape-clawless-otter-researcher-calls-for-otter-spotters-in-south-peninsula/

New State of Art Wildlife Emergency and Care Unit for Cape Town

Did you know that the SPCA now has a state of the art wildlife emergency treatment and short-term care unit?  It was officially opened on 2 May 2012 by Marjorie Letoaba of the National Lotteries Board and SPCA Wildlife Unit Ambassador and environmental campaigner, Lewis Pugh.  The Wildlife Unit now has added capacity to respond to displaced, injured and sick wildlife as well as being able to investigate reports of cruelty to wild animals. Read more at   http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/05/cape-town%E2%80%99s-first-short-term-wildlife-care-rehabilitation-centre-opens/ or for the SPCA Wildlife Unit website go to http://www.spca-ct.co.za/wild.asp.

 graph of otter road kills by Nicola Okes

Figure 1. Number of known cases of otters killed on roads 1989 – 2011. Note the rapid increase in road kills in recent years.  Source: Iziko Museu: South African Museums.

Nicola Okes and KimK 19 June 2012