Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This week’s endangered species pegs the cute meter!

The asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea) is the smallest of the world’s 13 otter species, and like most otters, very cute.  If you’ve been lucky enough to see these guys playing at a zoo (or really lucky and seen them in the wild), you know that they’re very entertaining to watch.  These little otters (6 to 12 lbs) get their name from the fact that their feet are not fully webbed to the ends of their toes, which allows them more dexterous movement as they handle their prey, which includes primarily crabs, molluscs, and fish caught in their habitat of freshwater and coastal streams and rivers.  The small clawed otter lives in family groups of up to 12 individuals.  It is found in Indonesia, southern China, southern India, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia.  It is currently listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN due to habitat destruction, hunting, and pollution.   Here’s an interesting fact:  these little otters have over 12 different calls – check out the National Zoo’s recording.   

So why do we care about the asian small-clawed otter?  Because scientists consider this species to be an “indicator” species – if we see this species in decline, we can assume that the decline indicates an overall decline in the health of its ecosystem.  Considering the otters’ large range, this decline could have major implications for the entire region’s ecosystem health.  For more information on otter conservation, see the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

Check out this video of small clawed otters at feeding time at the London Zoo: 


Arkive. 2012.  “Asian short-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea).”  Accessed online 12/18/12.

IUCN Otter Specialist Group.  2011.  “Aonyx cinereus (Illiger, 1815), the Asian Small-Clawed Otter.”  August 9, 2012.  Accessed online 12/18/12.

Monterey Bay Aquarium.  2012.  “Asian small-clawed otter.”  Accessed online 12/18/12.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park.  nd.  “Asian small-clawed otters.”  Accessed online 12/18/12.

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