Capturing the elusive Hairy-nosed otter

by Burhanuddin Hj. Md. Nor,
Department of Wildlife & National Parks (Perhilitan),
West Malaysia

"I was in Narathivat, southern province of Thailand recently to capture the elusive Hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana).This species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by Budsabong Kanchanasaka from the Royal Forestry Department, Thailand. Her study on this species led us to Narathivat province in southern Thailand.

The Hairy-nosed otter is currently confined to the Maleleuca swamp near the beach. Our capture team consists of Hiroshi Sasaki from the Otter Research Group, Japan, Budsabong and two of her staff, King and Stone who assisted me in the capture program.

The first thing that we did was to locate fresh signs of otter ie. through their faeces and footprints. Once we located the two most recent signs, the traps were set. We used softcatch traps (a modified leg-hold trap) to catch these otters. The signs indicated that there are three animals in the area. We set a total of 4 traps, 2 at the toilet sites and the remainder along the trail. A telemetry device was attached to the traps using nylon string. The transmitters act as an alarm once the traps are closed. The traces of the traps were hidden using mud and leaves gathered from the surrounding.

We took turns to monitor the traps via the transmitter receiver. Nothing happened during the night. But to our surprise, we found two Hairy-noed otters caught in the traps the next day around 1100 hrs. The two staff who had monitored the traps during the night informed us the they saw the three otters in the vicinity but did not expect them to get caught in the traps.

As we approached the traps we heard the otter call. Approximately 50 meters from the traps we saw all three otters at the toilet site. Close observation showed that only two were caught in the traps while the other one was trying to free the two caught otters. Seeing this we knew that we had to act fast as the day was geting hot. The two assistants went back to the truck to bring back the net and cage while we prepared the drug (Zoletil) to sedate the otters.

Our group was divided into two groups of three persons. Two person would cast the net over the otter while the third would try to inject the drug into the animal. We approached the animal at the same time reduce the anxiety and stress to teh animal. Everything had to be done in the shortest time possible.

As we approached the two otters, the third one sneaked back into the swamp. Finally we managed to sedate the otters in less than 5 seconds and the drug took less than 5 minutes to fully sedate the animals. Once they were unconscious, we removed them from the traps and checked for injuries to the animals. Luckily we found no serious injury except for swollen palms due to the traps.

The otters were then measured and blood samples taken before being kept in the cages that we had brought.We took the otters to the captive breeding center belonging to the Forestry Department of Thailand where a veterinarian was called to treat the swollen palms. Apparently, the otters that we caught were the only two in captivity in the world.

- from Burhanuddin's webpage

Left, squatting - Burhanuddin Nor; Standing w/light green uniform - Budsabong K; standing w/camera - Hiroshi Saski
(photo courtesy of Burhanuddin Nor, 12 Sep 1999)

Close up of head,
Lutra sumatrana (photo by Burhanuddin Nor, 13 Sep 1999)

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