The giant otter is, indeed, the giant of the otter world. Pteronura brasiliensis is only found in selected river systems in South America and, unfortunately, is endangered today.
South America boasts of some of the most diverse and unique wildlife. And the largest of all otters in the world, the giant river otter or simply giant otter, is found here along the rivers and creeks of the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata. It lives up to its name and grows to about 1.7 m. (about six feet) long and can weigh up to 40 kg.! Its lithe, powerful build and predatory skills puts it in the league of the top carnivores of South America. It is interestingly also called a ‘river wolf’ and it has almost no threats in the form of natural predators with the exception of caimans, pumas and jaguars.
The giant otter is an expert swimmer for which it uses its well-crafted, powerful tail to propel itself and navigate in water. It belongs to the weasel family and just like other species of otters, it has webbed feet and characteristic water-repellent fur that keeps it perfectly insulated. Fish is its most preferred food, and it either hunts alone or in groups. Its large build demands a food intake of at least three to four kilogrammes in a single day. And so, hunting is serious business. The giant otter strategises meticulously when hunting in groups. Apart from fish, crustaceans and snakes also form a part of its diet.
Giant otters mate for life and live in a family of eight to nine that includes their pups that may have been born over different breeding seasons. The family lives in dens that they burrow along riverbanks or underneath fallen tree logs. They are fiercely territorial and will strictly guard their territories from any intruder. The pups will live within the confines of their burrows for at least a month. And by the time they are eight to nine months old, they grow to be as big as their mothers!
First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, March 2015.