The return of the European otter
The otter received legal protection in France from 1972In the Limousin, 1989 was the most critical year, the otter then only populated fifty-five percent of its original territory. The otter received legal protection in France from 1972, followed in 1979 at international level by the Berne Convention. Europe made its legal contribution in 1992. Today, this decision-making process is bearing fruit: ninety-five percent of the original area is back to the otter luck.
In the Limousin people observe by riverIt is not easy to get an idea of the numbers and way of life of these shy nocturnal animals. In the Limousin one observes per river the impressions that their legs leave on the river banks and the excrement that contains the necessary fish and amphibian remains and one tries to form an image based on this data. The international method works differently. An easily recognizable point is established, for example a bridge. The surface to be investigated is limited to three hundred meters upstream and three hundred meters downstream, using the traditional observation technique in the form of droppings and paw prints. The data is then recorded on a GPS, which at a certain moment gives an impression of the otter file present.
Nocturnal life of an otterHow does an otter's night life go? The hunting area of a male extends over forty kilometers of river, the ladies look for it closer to home and between five and fifteen kilometers. These distances are considerably more modest if there is an abundance of fish. The American freshwater crab, which has massively populated the rivers in the Limousin, has inadvertently made a positive contribution to the return of the otter, who regards this animal with dangerous claws as a true treat.
The love lifeThe love life of this species goes on throughout the year. Mating generally takes place in the water. After a gestation period of sixty days, one, two or three young are born in the den, the entrance of which is under water. This home is often built by other animal species. The female watches over the otter duckweed for eight months. The territory is plotted with urine traces and stools, carefully produced on stones and tree stumps. An otter can reach the age of twelve.
What phenomena have reduced the otter stock in earlier years in such a disturbing way?Through the ages, mankind has wanted to manipulate nature, with all its consequences. The strengthening of the river banks, the canalization, the construction of dams, the draining of marshy areas in addition to an intensive hunt and increasing urbanization have not made it any easier for the otter. In Brittany, an average of four percent of the otter population is killed, as the bridges are not "otter-friendly" and these four-legged friends are therefore obliged to share the asphalt with the traffic. Heavy metals and agricultural pesticides have also taken their toll. The otter is slowly regaining its territory. Slowly, as the European otter advances at a speed of 3.8 kilometers per year, with which it has succeeded to repopulate a third of France.
Not everyone is happy with the return of the otterNot everyone is happy with the return of the otter. Many trout farms keep their heads just above the water because of a few lean subsidies. However, Stéphane Raimond is an exception to this rule. Every year, several otter families consumed an average of fifty thousand trout at its fish farm located in Bugeat. Most attempts to keep the greedy intruders out of the door were unsuccessful. The lighting installed by him connected to electric eyes was gratefully used by the otters as this system made the night-time fishing parties considerably easier. Mesh fencing was used as climbing frames, only electric fencing had some effect. Stéphane's disappointments and frustrations gradually gave way to a growing respect for this intelligent species.
He decided to share his trout farm with the local otter stock. He sacrificed a good part of his night's rest by photographing the various families and their eating and living habits.
Stéphane Raimond has managed to become a well-known otter personality. Many nature photographers spent the night among the otters on the spot. Nowhere in the world is it possible to approach the shy animals up to two and a half meters away! The fish farm has since been declared an ecological center of national importance. Stéphane has written a book about his similarities with the otters, entitled "A l'affût des loutres", publisher "Mines de Rien". A translation into Dutch will undoubtedly see the light of day.
The center and the exhibitions can be visited: Pisciculture du Moulin de Barthou, 19170 Bugeat.