- The smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter are now on the CITES list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade.
- Asian small-clawed otters are particularly sought after as domestic pets and for ‘otter cafés,’ where wild otters are forced to interact with paying customers.
- Conservationists say that a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted to place the smooth-coated otter and the Asian small-clawed otter on the list of animals with the highest level of protection from the wildlife trade.
The recent CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Geneva, Switzerland considered many proposals and issued new protections for numerous species including giraffes, sharks and rays, and many more. CITES does not determine the risk of extinction of species, which is the domain of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its Red List of Threatened Species, but rather CITES’ role is to ensure that international trade in wild animals does not threaten their survival in the wild.
Conservationists insisted a trade ban was vital for the survival of the two species, whose numbers in the wild have fallen by at least 30% in the past 30 years.
When asked how important the actions are, Paul Todd, Senior Attorney for the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told Mongabay, “The Appendix I listings for small-clawed and smooth coated otters were a vital step in reversing the decline of these species throughout their range. The range countries will have to take added measures to reduce poaching and enforce against illegal trade in the species, and the listing sends the right signals to the marketplace that these species are in trouble and are not available for use as pets or for other reasons.”
The pet trade that supplies phenomena like ‘otter cafés’ in Japan, where customers can handle otters plucked from the wild as pups, is the most visible reminder of these animals’ plight. In these establishments, otters can be heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers are interacting with them.
Aaron Gekoski, one of the filmmakers behind the recent investigative documentary “Pet otters: the truth behind the latest wildlife craze,” told Mongabay, “During our investigation it became evident quite quickly that otters do not make good pets.” [See that interview and Gekoski’s sobering images here.]
Good pets or bad ones, do these actions protect these species being trafficked for otter cafés and for the pet trade?
“Yes,” says NRDC’s Todd. “Asian small-clawed otters in particular are taken as pups for use as pets and attractions, in large part because they are the smallest of the otter species and their range is nearest to where the demand is highest, especially Japan.” But, he continued, “Smooth-coated otters and even the rarest of all otters, the hairy-nosed otter, have been found in trade, including trade in live animals.”
Despite these truths, the conservationist is hopeful: “The Appendix I listing will help increase enforcement attention and ensure that any trade in captive bred specimens is from legitimate sources, not from the wild.”
That remains to be seen, but it’s certain that these Asian otters need all the help they can get.
Banner image: Internet star Takechiyo lives in a private home and here takes a rare break from play. His owner warns against keeping otters as pets. Image by Aaron Gekoski for World Animal Protection.