Rare Otter Spotted for the First Time in 100 Years


Image credit: Andreas Wilting

To say sightings of Lutra sumatrana, better known as the hairy-nosed otter, in Borneo are rare would be an understatement. The most recent spotting occurred after one of the otters was struck by a car and killed in Brunei. The last live sighting occurred more than 100 years ago.

The species was so rare that many thought it had vanished from its native home and perpetuated by only a few small satellite populations in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. New photos captured by a camera trap, however, have given conservationists hope for the species on the island. Camera traps—which have been placed throughout Sabah, Borneo, as part of a Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research project—captured photos and video of several different otter species. Initially, researchers believed they had only captured images of smooth-coated otters and Asian small-clawed otters.


The camera traps also captured images of other otters including this Cynogale bennettii. This is the first photograph of the species ever taken in Borneo.

Close examination, however, revealed the unique traits of the hairy-nosed otter: a flatter, longer head, a white throat, and darker fur.

Andreas Wilting, who leads the project for the Leibniz Institute, commented:

Even over the whole island of Borneo the last record, a road-kill from Brunei, was 1997, over ten years ago. Therefore it was unknown to scientists if this species can be still found on Borneo.

In spite of this incredible discovery, the otter—once common throughout much of Southeast Asia—is still in a dire situation. According to the IUCN, the hairy-nosed otter is exceptionally rare—to the point that accurate population surveys have been unsuccessful. A recent survey of a group of otters in Vietnam estimated only 50-230 individuals, and the numbers are likely smaller elsewhere. Poaching, they report, remains the primary threat to the species and is responsible for as much as a 50 percent decline in population in the last 30 years.

Hopefully, Wilting explained, this sighting will reignite international efforts to conserve the few otters that remain.

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Tags: Conservation | Endangered Species | Indonesia