לוטרה בעמק החולה
An otter in Hula Valley
Photo: Uriya Sadeh
The common otter

Israel's otters are doing 'otterly' bad

Nocturnal mammal may soon become a fond and furry memory as human presence continues to bite off large chunks of its natural habitats; animal's slow puberty process makes every death impactful

Ilan Curiel |
Published: 02.11.20 , 23:42
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has recently released an annual report on the country's otter population, which revealed the semiaquatic mammal appears to be critically endangered, as its natural habitats continue to shrink.
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  • The common otter (also known as the Eurasian otter) is considered to be one of the rarest carnivores in Israel and only a few have seen it in the wild.
    The common otter The common otter
    The common otter
    (Photo: Erez Ehrlichman)
    Its secretive nature and nocturnal lifestyle allow it to avoid being spotted by humans while searching for food.
    The otter sits atop the food chain of Israel's most humid habitats and its presence is a sign of the ecosystem's health and biodiversity.
    Until the beginning of the 20th century, otters were common along all coastal rivers in the region. From the Lebanon border in the north to Sorek River in the center of the country, and along the Jordan Basin - from its sources in the north to the Dead Sea in the south - including Hula Lake and the Sea of Galilee.
    However, these furry little creatures' numbers have been on the decline ever since, which has led professionals to classify the otter as critically endangered in Israel.
    According to estimates, there are only a few dozen individuals living in the wild today, mainly in the Hula Valley, the Sea of Galilee and along the Jordan River, which are the only habitats in Israel that sustain a stable otter population.
    The latest data on Israel's otter population was conducted in February-March 2019 in the creature's main habitats.
    לוטרה בעמק החולהלוטרה בעמק החולה
    An otter in Hula Valley
    (Photo: Uriya Sadeh)
    The Nature and Parks Authority inspectors toured various sites in northern Israel and documented areas where otters usually observed.
    The findings were not encouraging, as inspectors reported that only 36% of the monitored points had a positive presence of otters. In 2012, by comparison, these figures stood at 53%.
    Since the 1980s, the main cause of death among the species has been collisions with vehicles. In addition, otters take a relatively long time to reach puberty, making the loss of every single otter devastating as it could have a far-reaching impact on the rest of the population.
    The report estimates that the current situation in Hula Valley's streams and channels, which has a large human presence, cannot sustain a stable and viable otter population for long.
    Some past efforts to mitigate the roadkill phenomenon include a 2016 campaign launched by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and Waze, the world's largest community-based traffic and navigation app, to encourage drivers to report roadkill incidents.
    Since the campaign began, SPNI has been able to compile data from user-generated reports and develop a map detailing which Israeli roadways are most dangerous to wild animals.
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