It’s official – a rare giant otter born at the Chestnut Centre Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park is to be sent to Trinidad to mate in a move that’s a first for the UK and for conservationists Carol and Roger Heap.
Giant otter Akuri, who was born at the Chestnut Centre in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire and now lives at New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire, has been selected by the international stud book keeper for giant otters to be sent to the Emperor Valley Zoo in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to breed. He will be introduced to a specially selected female, a wild rescue giant otter from Central America that was left at the zoo gates by illegal traders. It is hoped the pair will breed and their young may become some of the first captive-bred otters to be re-introduced into the wilds of South America.
The selection represents a first for the UK and for conservationists Roger and Carol Heap, who own both parks and have been involved in wildlife conservation for over 30 years. Roger and Carol are the first people to breed the giant otter successfully in the UK and Akuri will be the first giant otter sent abroad from the UK to help conserve the species.
Akuri and his brother Simuni, both one year and ten months old, were born to their parents Manoki and Panambi at the Chestnut Centre in the Derbyshire High Peaks and were moved to the New Forest after their parents gave birth to another litter.
“We are all thrilled and excited about this development,” said Carol, who originally began looking after rescued otters in her back garden in Derbyshire in the 1980s.
“Giant otters are highly endangered and we are really pleased that Akuri has been chosen to mate and to help conserve this important and lovely species in captivity and to help prevent its extinction in the wild. We are also very pleased to have played our part by successfully breeding giant otters in the UK for the first time.
“All efforts are made by the studbook keeper to prevent in-breeding, as the genetic pool for these captive otters is quite small. We were delighted when Nirmal Biptah, the Animal Curator in Trinidad, explained that their female could not be related to any captive animals as she had been poached by illegal traders in Venezuela. This is a good strong genetic line.”
Giant otters are listed on the IUCN Red List for endangered species, with only an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 remaining in the wild in their native South America.
They are endangered because there are so few of them in the wild and because it’s estimated that their population will decline in the wild by 50% over the next 20 years. They are almost as rare as giant pandas, of which there fewer than 2,500 living in the wild.
Giant otter populations have declined due to illegal hunting for their fur and because of loss or degradation of their natural habitats due to mining, deforestation and pollution. The largest of the world’s 13 otter species, giant otter males attain an overall length of 1.5 to 1.8m and weigh between 26 and 32 kg, while females generally measure 1.5 to 1.7m in length and may weigh between 22 and 26 kg. The giant otter frequents rivers, streams, lakes, and swamps of tropical lowland rainforests and the species is particularly vulnerable to human disturbance.
Roger and Carol Heap were the first people in the UK to look after giant otters in captivity. They have been working closely with giant otter expert Diane McTurk of the Karanambu Trust in Guyana for many years and have visited Guyana several times. The Trust works with neighboring Amerindian communities to protect giant otters and their habitats.
Further information is available at:
The IUCN Red List – giant otters:
Media contact – Journalists who would like to write about any aspect of wildlife conservation, keeper days or the wildlife parks are welcome to get in touch. We welcome visits by journalists and their families. Contact Lindsey Darking on 01425 617175 or 07775 891715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
The Chestnut Centre Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park is at Castleton Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, High Peak, Derbyshire SK23 0QS. Tel 01298 814099.
The New Forest Wildlife Park is at Deerleap Lane, Longdown, Marchwood, Southampton, SO41 4UH. Tel 02380 292408.
New Forest Wildlife Park is a Wildlife Investor of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.