- Status: Vulnerable
- Known as: Oriental short-clawed otter, Oriental small-clawed otter, Asian small-clawed otter.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: Unknown.
The Oriental short-clawed otter is tiny, the smallest of the world’s thirteen species. An adult weighs only 1 to 5 kilograms and measures 40 and 70 centimeters long, plus a 30-centimeter tail.
They are sleek and flexible like all otters and are covered in fur, dark grey above and whites below. Their toes are only slightly webbed for swimming, and their claws are small and blunt.
Oriental short-clawed otters eat a wide range of invertebrates and small vertebrates and prowl their wetland homes searching for this prey. They perform a valuable ecological service to rice farmers by entering paddy fields and consuming crabs there.
Though freshwater crabs are one of their staple prey items and mudskippers, they also catch (using their paws) and consume other crustaceans, plus clams, frogs, small fish, rodents, and snakes. Their sensitive whiskers can detect the movements of prey animals in muddy water, enabling the otters to pounce and consume the small animals.
These otters are a highly gregarious species, living in groups of up to a dozen related animals. They are quite territorial and defend their area of wetland from intrusion by other groups of otters.
However, many confrontations are prevented by territorial markers, including heaps of dung or “spraint” that are also marked with fluids from special scent glands and simple cairns of pebbles and mud scratched up near the boundaries of their home range.
Young otters are born after a gestation period of around two months, and Oriental short-clawed otters have a potential maximum lifespan of around two decades. However, most live 10 to 15 years in the rough, dangerous conditions found in the wild.
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the oriental short-clawed otter is found throughout many countries of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Taiwan, Laos, Malaysia, Borneo, and parts of southern China. This tiny otter prefers freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps as its main habitat in all parts of its range.
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The biggest threat facing the oriental short-clawed otter today is habitat destruction as humans continue to encroach into and drain the wetlands that these small animals need to survive.
As usual, habitat fragmentation will eventually raise the risk of inbreeding and thus less overall genetic vigor and breeding success. Oriental short-clawed otters have also been hunted for their pelts, dense and have a velvety texture in common with all otter species; however, hunting is not the chief cause of the species’ dwindling numbers.
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The Oriental short-clawed otter is protected from hunting by international treaty, but conservation efforts for the species are fragmentary and poorly coordinated. Much more conservation work is needed.
Several zoos, including Sea World in the United States and the Basel Zoo, are attempting to breed captive populations of these animals to help with future reintroduction efforts or keep some of the animals alive.
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Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Oriental short-clawed otter? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.