Just before Christmas 2011, we received the unfortunate news of an otter killed by a car on Kommetjie Road.
It appears that road kills are on the increase and otters are especially vulnerable. As urban areas have expanded over the years, otters on the move have come into closer contact with roads and cars, and as they are active in the early mornings and and evenings when the light is not at its best, they are at risk.
A sightings page has been added to the Peninsula Otter Watch blog to allow you to upload the details of your sightings online. Please click on the sightings tab on the menu in the top right hand corner of this page, and fill in the details of your otter sighting! All sightings will be compiled and presented on a map to determine current and historical distribution of otters in the Western Cape.
Otters at one of the study sites have had pups!
Also known as ‘whelps’ or ‘cubs’, these cute, unstable pups are about 6 weeks old, and have only recently emerged from their holt (den) where we had placed a camera trap. Otters breed once a year, at no set time or season. The gestation period is approximately 2 months, and the pups are born blind. They emerge after 4 weeks, and stay with their mother for at least a year until they are fully independent. The father is solitary and will stay away from the pups – this was confirmed as the male was caught on camera at a separate site in the same study area. Following these pups as they grow up will allow us insight into the dispersal patterns and behaviour of otters in an urban environment.
Videos and photos coming soon!
An interesting phenomena occurred off the Cape beaches recently. Near the end of November, thousands of sardines were trapped very close inshore, off the beaches of Hout Bay, Noordhoek, Kommetjie and Scarborough. Scientists suggest this may be due to (non toxic) red tides that have depleted the oxygen supply and driven the sardines inshore. The large shoals of sardine attracted hundreds of seals, seabirds and even an otter. An otter was spotted picking through some of the sardine on Kommetjie beach. On the same weekend, I spotted this otter coming out of the water after an early morning foraging trip.
The last few weeks have seen quite a lot of otter activity in the Peninsula.
As mentioned before, with the help of Lakeside residents, we have been setting up camera traps in Westlake Pond in Zandvlei to understand the movements of otters in the wetland. After a slow month of August, with cameras showing not much activity, it was a surprise to see that Septembers camera’s had captured almost 200 photos of otters! September was obviously an active month as otters triggered the cameras mornings, afternoons and evenings at least two or three times a day.
At a similar time, otters appeared to be active in other areas of the Peninsula: On the 22nd September, the SPCA called with two reports of otters being found by residents. One was found in a resident’s garden in Mannenburg and the other under a caravan in Athlone. The SPCA went out to capture and safely release the otters into nearby water bodies. Check out the SPCA report, which shows a photo of the male otter under the caravan. The otter found in Athlone was particular interesting as otters are usually found closer to sources of freshwater, and not this far inland.
A week later, the SPCA was called out again. This time to try and rescue a different otter that had been hit by a car on Liesbeek Parkway. Unfortunately this otter could not be saved and died shortly after.
One of the intentions of the Peninsula Otter Watch is to inspire communities living near vlei’s and rivers in the Cape Peninsula to nurture their patch of urban aquatic environment – not only to ensure that otter habitat is conserved, but also to support the protection of other wetland species.
The ecologically minded residents of Spinnaker Avenue (members of the Zandvlei Trust) were amongst the first to get involved. They lent me a canoe and enthusiastically gave up their Saturday morning to paddle out on the vlei, scratch around through thick vegetation, and get excited about finding otter poo. Having found a path used by otters, we set up an infra-red camera trap that would be triggered by movement and capture videos or images of any animals passing by. It was a very successful trip as we had found definite signs of otter activity, seen some amazing birds (fish eagle, spoonbills) and set up a camera with plans to collect it the following day.
As otters are shy, and active mostly at night, camera traps are a great way of monitoring their presence in an area. However, I did not expect that the camera would capture anything as exciting as an otter on the first night, so I was very pleasantly surprised when we saw that the camera had captured a video of three otters. Being curious, playful animals, the otters had sniffed around the camera and moved it, but although parts of the video were a bit shaky (and other parts were all snout and whisker) it clearly showed three relatively young otters bounding down the path.
Since that day, we have set up the camera in the Zandvlei area on a regular basis with some great results (photos attached). Residents have been a tremendous help, setting up and collecting the camera, loaning canoes, downloading images and learning on the go. Apart from a few other lessons learnt, we have realised that when camera trapping otters one needs to take into account their curious nature. This discovery has led to some interesting experimenting, which I will post more on at a later stage!
Some camera trap photos taken so far:
Above: An otter caught on camera as he emerges from the water.
…but spotting the 2 month old Mountain Zebra foal in Cape Point is worth a mention. Mountain Zebra are classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List (2008), with most of their population now being found in reserves. The foal born in Cape Point on the 19th July 2011 was the first in 9 years, and is fantastic news for the Park.
In May this year, diver Jacques de Vos was lucky enough to encounter a Cape Clawless Otter in Millers Point while testing his new camera. Check out the footage here, which shows how curious and playful otters can be!