make comeback in Indiana
Big Oaks is among
locations of recent otter release
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(January 2013) Today, wildlife lovers in Jefferson
County, Ind., have the chance to enjoy a creature that was absent from
the Indiana landscape for more than 50 years. Thanks to efforts by the
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, and officials at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, area residents
once again have the chance to see river otters in the wild. Joe Robb,
Refuge Manager at Big Oaks, has often had the opportunity to observe
the animals as part of his work. He describes the creatures as a
lot of fun to watch, very playful, curious.
courtesy of Big Oaks N.W.R.
otters have been
throughout Indiana, including
Big Oaks National Wildlife
Refuge in Madison, Ind.
As of 1942, river otters were considered to have died
out in the state. They were victims of many of the same challenges that
endangered wildlife face today. Robb explains that a variety of factors
lead to the demise of otters in Indiana, including habitat loss, river
pollution resulting in decreased quality of otter habitats, and simple
over harvesting of the animals by trappers.
However, by the 1990s decreased pollution gave officials hope that the
otters might once again be successful in Indiana if given another chance.
Robb notes that habitat surveys found that the habitat quality
had come back, and these studies led wildlife officials to move
forward with attempts to reintroduce otters to the state.
Between 1995 and 2000 wildlife officials released 303 otters at 12 Indiana
sites in the southern and northern parts of the state. In 1996, 25 river
otters, including one pregnant female, were released at the Jefferson
Proving Ground, now home to Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.
In 1999, an additional four males and two females were brought in to
supplement the population. These original 303 otters were relocated
from Louisiana, and their offspring have proven so successful throughout
Indiana that in 2005 they were able to be removed from the states
endangered species list.
In a press release, Scott Johnson, a nongame biologist with the Indiana
DNR, reports on the success of the release program saying, Its
now been seven years since delisting, and all our information indicates
the otter population continues to expand.
Otters have now moved beyond their release sites not only to occupy
nearby rivers and streams but have also moved into central Indiana counties
where the habitat was not considered ideal. The Indiana DNR recently
announced that river otters are now found in 80 percent of the states
counties, marking a return to much of their historic range. Robb is
pleased to report that Otters are commonly sighted on Big Oaks
NWR in all the streams and pond and Old Timbers Lake.
While watching otters at play in the wild is a memorable experience,
they can be a bit difficult for casual wildlife enthusiasts to see up
close. One of the challenges for viewing otters is the fact that they
tend to be nocturnal. Robb estimates that visitors get to see the animals
on about one out of every 20 tours given at Big Oaks. However, those
hoping to see the animals do not necessarily have to travel to a designated
park or refuge as the animals have spread throughout area waterways.
Robb recommends that people who have creeks or streams on their property
to keep an eye out for signs or tracks by the water in order to get
an idea of areas that the otters frequent. Then wildlife watchers can
find the slides and narrow down where theyre hanging out,
allowing observers a better chance of catching the animals at play.
The coming months are a particularly good time to try and get a look
at otters in the wild. They tend to be more active when its
snowing, Robb explains.
The snowfall holds tracks and slide marks. During the cold weather,
otters also help regulate the population of invasive fish with their
Especially in the winter time, they take care of rough fish carp.
They really hit those during the winter time when those fish get
a bit more sluggish, Robb said.
While the otters are a delight to many wildlife watchers and help combat
invasive species of fish, their reintroduction has raised a few challenges.
Robb explains that some property owners have been saddened to find that
their collections of ornamental goldfish make for an attractive meal
to the otters. The animals can also prove problematic when they make
commercial fisheries part of their hunting grounds or when they destroy
Trappers of beavers and raccoons are expected to make efforts to minimize
their chances of capturing otters, since it is illegal to take or possess
them. While there is no penalty for accidentally trapping an otter,
any capture must be reported to a conservation officer. Uninjured otters
should be released, and any carcasses must be turned over to officials.
The success of the reintroduction of the otters is thanks to the hard
work and cooperation of a variety of wildlife officials and stands as
a testament to the improvement of Indiana waterways in recent years.
While there are many environmental reasons to celebrate the return of
the otters, there is also the simple fact that as Refuge Manager Robb
says, They are just a joy to see.
For more information, visit: www.IN.gov
and search river otter.
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