Hairy-nosed Otter, Lutra sumatrana

The hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) is a rare species that was thought to be extinct until 1998. It is native to Southeast Asia with a range that includes Cambodia, Myanmar, South Thailand, South Vietnam, and Sumatra and Borneo in Peninsular Malaysia. It prefers a habitat within coastal areas or near large inland bodies of water.

The hairy-nosed otter can reach an average body length between twenty and twenty-three inches, with a tail length of up to twenty inches and a weight between eleven to thirteen pounds. This species was named for the hair on the end of its nose, which is its only major distinguishing feature. It is difficult to spot in the wild, not only because of its rarity, but because it strongly resembles the European otter. The majority of its fur is brown in color, with the exception of the upper throat, chin, and lips, which are white in color. The feet are fully webbed and bare sharp claws, and the fur is short and rough.
The hairy-nosed otter gathers in groups of up to four, or can be found living alone. It is thought that males and females do not gather at any time except the breeding season. Adults communicate using a single chirping note, and females will communicate with pups in a quick, chirping manner. The diet of this species consists of crustaceans and fish.

Although this species was thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in 2005, and is now thought to reside in Sumatra, two Vietnamese nature reserves, and in the Toa Daeng peat swamp forest. It was also found to reside in Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Despite these rediscoveries, it occurs in very small numbers, and some of the discoveries were of skins and road kill. It was discovered in 2008 in southern Vietnam in the U Minh Ha National Park by Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program researchers. It was also found in Malaysia in the state of Sabah, where it was thought to be extinct for one hundred years. Photographs were captured from camera traps in this area of the hairy-nosed otter and other endangered species.

In 2008, one hairy-nosed otter was donated to the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, which is led by the Wildlife Alliance, from the area around the Tonle Sap in Cambodia. Cooperating with Conservation International, the otter was placed in a safe home at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Unfortunately, the otter passed away from unknown causes in 2010. In July of the same year, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center acquired another hairy-nosed otter, which it plans to use in a future captive breeding program, although it is the only known individual in captivity.

Although the hairy-nosed otter is one of the rarest otter species in the world and it occurs in small numbers in the northern area of the range, its status in other areas of its range is unknown. Habitat loss, accidental killing at fisheries, and hunting threaten this species and it is thought to have a total population number of only eighty-six individuals. The hairy-nosed otter appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption: Hairy Nosed otter from Cambodia. Credit: IOSF1957/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)