The Outdoor Journal by Kyle Carroll
Two weeks ago we learned that after hovering at an almost extirpated level of 35-70 animals for almost 50 years, Missouri’s otters got a second chance when the Missouri Department of Conservation embarked on a reintroduction program. Otters obtained in a baseball like three state trade were trucked to Missouri from Louisiana where wild caught animals were taken by local trappers in leg hold traps, then held in cages for transporting. The trade that brought the otters to Missouri, involved wild turkeys from Missouri first being trapped and shipped to Kentucky for reintroduction efforts there. Stripped Bass from Kentucky then went to Louisiana completing the trade for the otters that were shipped to Missouri.
The first otters to be released near Swan Lake were fitted with radio transmitters.
The late Dave Hamilton was a fur-bearer biologist with MDC overseeing the project. Dave remembered, “During an 11-year program, we released 845 otters, setting them free in 43 streams in 35 counties. We traded some of our wild turkeys for wild-caught Cajun otters—the same subspecies that once existed here.
The rest, as they say, is history. The otters not only survived, they flourished. Otters now exist in every county in the state and in most watersheds, even those miles from the original release sites. And, they made their way into places we never would have believed they could, and where they were really not wanted.”
The reintroduction was too successful in some places. Dave explains:
“In our vision for otters living in Missouri, we sure didn’t see... ponds as providing good habitat for otters, nor did we see the impending train wreck that otter depredation of the fish in these ponds would cause.
There is no predator of fish more efficient than river otters. Traveling in groups of two to eight animals, they can hammer fish in a small pond before anyone even knows they are there. Sometimes they travel four or more miles from streams to hit these fast-food opportunities.
Otters eat fish in the winter when they are most vulnerable. They especially target hand-fed catfish. They might eat 2 to 3 pounds of fish per day. At times, fish are so easy to catch that otters kill many more than they eat, leaving the evidence of the massacre on the banks for the owners to discover.”
Next week, the effort to find a balance between too many and none at all.