It’s so easy to get addicted to otter-watching… these mammals often seem to be playing as they roll in the mud, peek at people, and swim around jetties. Otters tend to move in family groups, though they are occasionally spotted hunting in pairs. Often heard before they are seen, they seem to call out to each other to warn of danger or to keep the group together. In Sungai Pendas, otters are known to raid the jetties – sometimes opening traps to retrieve fish or crab, then sitting on top of it to eat their lunch.
Malaysia has four species of otters, and all are listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Johor is known to have the Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerus). Otters are speedy swimmers and have thick fur coats that keep them warm and buoyant. They can live up to 16 years, but sometimes they are hunted for their coats and the pet trade.
Otters are good indicators of the health of a riverine system as they need clean waters to survive. They are often the first species to disappear when their habitats are destroyed or fragmented from development, so spotting them somewhere is a good sign that the area is still healthy.
Kelab Alami Mukim Tanjung Kupang (kelabalami.weebly.com) conducts research on the otters in our mangroves and coastal areas; a research project sponsored by the Johor Port Authority (LPJ), in collaboration with the University of Malaya.