Missouri River Otters - Part 1
Last week after the overnight temperatures got to near zero for a couple of nights, the area streams froze partially over. With snow falling, the conditions were perfect to look for signs of river otters. On a branch off of Grindstone on route EE, I noticed the tell tale slide an otter had made as they bounded from one open water spot to another across the top of the snow. These slides are pretty obvious and have been used in the past to inventory streams for otter sign from fixed wing aircraft.
In 1980, it was determined that there were only about 35-70 or so otters remaining in the state in some of the swamps and wetlands of the boot-heel. The late Dave Hamilton was the Furbearer Biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation at the time. Dave had research to show that the otter population had remained at that low level for 50 years. So an effort to re-establish the river otter was undertaken. The Missouri Trappers Association sold T-shirts and raised funds to help with the project.
Dave Hamilton describes how it went. “The first batch came from Louisiana in 1982. (These otters had been caught by trappers in Louisiana in leg hold traps, then transferred to cages and shipped to Missouri in a trade for wild turkey.) We fitted them with radio-implants, so we could track them, and set them loose in some of Missouri’s finest wetlands in and around Chariton County in north-central Missouri. Knowing the quality of the wetlands, we weren’t completely surprised when, in a few short generations, they made hundreds of new otters that spread out into the adjacent duck clubs and borrow ditches.
Missouri has few such wetlands, so the real test was to see if otters could once again exist in other habitats. We wanted to establish otter populations along Missouri’s rivers and streams. Or, so we thought. (to be continued)