Southern River Otter, Lontra provocax

The southern river otter (Lontra provocax) is a mammal that can be found in Argentina and Chile. Despite its name, it can be found in both freshwater and marine habitats. It prefers a habitat in freshwater rivers or lakes with dense vegetation. Important factors for this species preferred habitats include the presence of mature tree root systems, coastline, and fallen trees. This otter is occasionally thought to be a subspecies of Lontra Canadensis.

The southern river otter can reach an average body length of up to 2.5 feet, with an average weight between eleven and twenty-two pounds. Its fur is light brown on the upper body and darker brown on the underbelly. Females will occasionally gather in small groups, while males are known to be solitary. The average litter of this species contains two pups, but four can be produced. Its diet contains fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and even birds.

The southern river otter was overhunted for its fur within the last one hundred years, causing it to occur in low numbers across its small range. It now occurs in only seven fragmented populations. These populations are threatened by habitat loss due to increased human encroachment. Many acres of viable habitat for these otters are being destroyed for agricultural purposes and are being replaced with dams and roads. In Argentina, hunting of this species is illegal but poaching does occur. Hunting is not illegal in Chile. Another possible threat to this otter is the presence of invasive species, like the introduced American mink, which move into the otter’s range and feed on the same prey.

Studies have been conducted to understand the southern river otter and how it tolerates the threats it faces. Because of these studies, it was found to occur in several national forests, which are protected. Future conservation efforts will include more studies to understand the species and captive breeding programs, which can help bolster a threatened species’ population numbers. The southern river otter currently appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption:  Lontra provocax – Southern River Otter – Museum of Patagonia – San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Credit: Butterfly voyages – Serge Ouachée/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)