North American river otters once occupied most of North America. During the early 1800s, they were probably common along all the major rivers and permanent streams in Kansas. Over time, otters were reduced to less than 33% of their historic range due to over harvesting of their fur, habitat loss, and water pollution. The last reported otter trapped in Kansas was near Manhattan in 1904. Thanks to otter restoration programs, otters have since expanded their range into all eastern and parts of central Kansas.
Because of their decline and ecological, economic, cultural and aesthetic importance, many wildlife management agencies, including those in the Midwest, initiated reintroduction programs in the 1980s. Those reintroductions, immigrations from neighboring areas, habitat improvement, and stringent harvest regulations helped reestablish river otters across 90 percent of their historic range. This story is said to be one of the most successful carnivore reintroductions in history.
In Kansas, river otter restoration began when the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks released 19 otters from Minnesota and Idaho into the South Fork of the Cottonwood River in Chase County from 1983 to 1985. Missouri also released 845 otters between 1982 and 1992. Otters have since expanded their range into all eastern and parts of central Kansas. …from KDWPT website.
Otters are found in rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams in Kansas. Basically, any permanent waterbody that can support beavers may support otters. They are well-adapted to life in and around the water. They have webbed toes, a long, flat tail for swimming, a rounded, flattened head, and nostrils and ears that can seal tight underwater. They have thick fur and layers of body fat to insulate them in the water. Occasionally, they may be found away from water, particularly during the breeding season or when traveling between bodies of water.
Otters eat mostly fish and crayfish, but they also consume frogs, turtles, shellfish, large insects, birds, and small mammals. They have a minimal impact on fish populations in large streams, rivers and lakes, but can have a detrimental impact in small streams and ponds. Apart from bobcats and coyotes, otters have few natural enemies in Kansas. They are active year-round, day and night, except around humans. They tend to be more nocturnal.
Baby otters – To rescue or not to rescue
River otter babies are fragile and if one is found please contact OWL immediately.
Caught by Pets
Cats have mouths full of bacteria that can kill an animal in a short time. All animals caught by a cat need to be brought in for medication and rehabilitation, even if you can’t see wounds.
If a dog brings you an animal contact OWL immediately.
Signs of Injury
If you notice any of these issues, contact OWL as soon as possible:
- Cold and lethargic.
- Covered with fleas, ants, ticks, or flies/flystrike (looks like small clusters of rice anywhere on the animal).
- Has been fed any kind of formula or food.
- Has been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
- Broken limb, cuts, or bruises.
- Head tilt.
- Unable to stand or move without falling over.
River otters are classed as furbearers in Kansas, and their population has increased in the state to the point where the first modern harvest season for otters was established in 2011. Otters may be legally trapped in Kansas during the prescribed trapping season or with a nuisance wildlife control permit issued by the Department. They are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, meaning they may be confused with endangered and threatened otter species from other parts of the world. Because of this listing, river otter pelts must be properly tagged after harvest. The season limit is two otters per trapper. Each otter must be presented to the Department for pelt tagging within seven days following closure of the otter trapping season. It is recommended that tags be kept with mounted specimens.
River otters are often blamed for preying on wild game fish, particularly trout. Nevertheless, studies indicate that the bulk of the river otter’s diet consists of non-game fish species. However, river otters, particularly families with young pups, occasionally cause severe problems in fish hatcheries and private ponds. Otters also den under houses, decks and other structures near water, and the smell of their droppings and discarded food can be unpleasant.
To prevent conflicts or remedy existing problems
Eliminate access to feeding sites and other areas. Because river otters have heavy bodies and aren’t jumpers, a four-foot high fence constructed with three-inch mesh wire can keep them out of an enclosed area, such as where fish or aquaculture activities are concentrated. Because river otters are strong, fences should be sturdy and extend six inches below the surface to prevent them from pushing under the fence. Alternatively, include a wire apron on the animal side of the fence to prevent them from entering from underneath.
River otters are resourceful and will thoroughly investigate fence lines to find a way into a food source. They are known to use abandoned animal burrows as routes under fences. So, inspect fences regularly to make sure river otters have not dug or pushed their way under or worked their way over them.
Provide safety for fish by constructing sturdy hiding places on the bottom of ponds. Use cinder blocks, curved ceramic drain tiles, wire baskets made from leftover galvanized fencing, or upside-down plastic crates held in place with heavy rocks. In larger ponds, attach a group of cut conifer trees to a heavy anchor on the bottom of the pond. Eliminate access to convenient denning sites. Close potential entries under porches, houses, sheds, and other structures with quarter-inch mesh welded-wire (hardware cloth), boards, or other sturdy material. Aluminum flashing, or aluminum or stainless-steel hardware cloth is recommended in saltwater areas since galvanized materials quickly corrode.
Eliminate noxious odors. Commercial odor-eliminators can be used to remove the smell of otter droppings and other debris under structures. Such products are available through hospital supply houses, drugstores, pet stores, and from the Internet using the keywords “Pest Control Supplies.” If the smell is bad, the beams and other areas under the structure may have to be cleaned with a bleach solution (one and one-half cups of household bleach in one gallon of water). Be very careful of fumes.
Occasionally a river otter will find a suitable den site in or under a building. Otters normally occupy a den site for only two or three consecutive nights. However, during the mating and nesting season, females are attracted to warm, dry, dark, easily defended areas, and will remain longer if the setting remains favorable. You may choose to let otters occupy an area, such as under an outbuilding, if they don’t pose a problem.
- To determine entry points, you can use “tracking patches” of a fine layer of sand, flour, or dust placed at suspected entrances. Wadded up newspaper lightly stuffed into the entry hole also works great. Otters will push the paper out of the way when exiting.
- After dark, when the otter has left seeking food, they will leave tracks at the den entrance. Inspect the powder or the dislodged newspaper for exiting otter tracks.
- Seal all openings except the main entrance used by otters. Use sturdy wire mesh (quarter-inch hardware cloth or similar materials) to screen vents near ground level in houses and other structures. Tightly seal holes in foundations or under porches to prevent others from entering.
- Once an otter has left the building, immediately seal the entrance with a hardware cloth one-way door, which can be purchased at Tomahawk. (You will not want to permanently exclude until you are sure of the number of otter’s present.) The one-way door can be made from quarter-inch hardware cloth that is attached over the opening and hinged at the top and left loose on the other three sides. It should be larger than the opening so that it cannot swing inward. The otter will push it open to leave but cannot re-enter.
- After the one-way door has been installed for two to three nights, put a layer of flour on the inside and outside of the door. Any footprints in the flour should be outside the door with none inside. This means the otter is out. If you have any doubt, smooth out the dirt on both sides of the door with your hand or a tool, reapply the flour and observe. After a couple of days have gone by with no footprints, the otter is probably gone. Another way to check is to open the door and shove a few pieces of wadded up newspaper into the otter’s entrance. If the paper stays in place for two to three nights, the otter is gone.
- Once you are sure all otters are out, permanently seal the opening.
Important Note: Be sure all animals are out before sealing the entrance. Pay close attention and use extra caution if trying this option March through May when babies might be in the den.
To encourage the otter to leave, consider using bright lights or loud music, either of which can cause an otter to seek a more suitable habitat.
The First Treatment for Shock or Injury: Warm, Dark, and Quiet
If you find an animal that is injured or truly orphaned, the most important thing you must do is to keep them warm and quiet. Follow these protocols.
Put baby in a shoebox or other small container with several small air holes in the lid and a small non-terrycloth towel, fleece cloth, or t-shirt in the bottom. Tape the lid to keep secure.
Adults need to be contained in a dog or cat kennel.
If you have a heating pad, set to low and place the box half on/off the pad, so babies can move away from the heat if they need to. OR
You can also fill a sock or knee-high pantyhose with uncooked dry rice. Microwave the rice-filled sock for 30 to 60 seconds. This heat source will last about 20 to 30 minutes. Place the rice sock in the container under the towel, and place the baby on or near it, but not directly in contact with the rice sock. OR
Fill a Ziploc bag with warm (not hot) water, put it inside another Ziploc bag, and place under the towel next to the baby. The double bag guards against leaks and prevents the animal from getting wet and chilled.
Do not attempt to feed or give them anything to drink. Keeping the baby warm is more important than feeding it.
What to do
Mating and Social Structure
Otters use dens for giving birth and for shelter during extreme weather. The den sites are well-hidden and include hollow logs, log jams, piles of driftwood, and dens and lodges of muskrats and beavers. They may also den under docks, boathouses, and other human structures. Otters normally occupy a den site for only two or three consecutive nights. However, during the mating and nesting season, females are attracted to warm, dry, dark, and easily defended areas and will remain longer if the setting remains favorable.
Breeding occurs from December to April, but the fertilized eggs do not implant begin developing until about eight months later. This delay ensures that the pups are born in March through July when conditions are optimal for their survival. Once the eggs implant, gestation takes 61 to 63 days, and two to four pups are born. In late fall, the pups leave to establish their own territories and may be spotted on land as they move between bodies of water. The basic social group for river otters is a female and her young. Males are usually solitary except during breeding season, but sometimes congregate in bachelor groups of a few to a dozen or more.