On World Wetlands Day spare a thought for the Giant Otter of the Pantanal
February 2nd each year is World Wetlands Day. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2nd February 1971. Read more here.
As I followed a group of giant otters in the Pantanal wetland of Brazil they came across a plastic bottle floating in the water. Otters are highly social animals and together they seemed to enjoy playing with this unusual item.
The Pantanal is a mostly pristine wilderness that stretches 195,000 square kilometres over Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Some areas have been shaped by humans over the past few centuries, but here in the remotest heart of the wetland I was hundreds of miles from any significant human population. This single plastic bottle was a cold reminder of how we impact every corner of this planet.
The giant otter is considered to be one of the most endangered mammals in the tropics, habitat loss and degradation are now a major threat, but historically hunting has resulted in the most significant demise. In the 1960s up to 3000 pelts a year were harvested from otters in the Amazon alone (source). Since the 1940s the giant otter has dissapeared from 80% of its range and in 2006 a IUCN report suggested that there were less than 5,000 remaining in the wild (IUCN). They are almost completely absent in southern Brazil, but fortunately in the Pantanal a decrease in hunting has led to healthy recolonization with more than 1,000 otters thriving in these pristine waters.