Otter Program

Cikananga Wildlife Center and Wanicare are assisting to 1) study the ecology of otters in their natural habitat, and 2) continue rehabilitation at Cikananga with the goal to successfully release them in protected reserves.

Otters in the wild
To study otters in the wild, our biologist is studying their ecology at three different sites. For their ecology study we will focus on the otters activity patterns, habitat use, home range sizes and ideally also behavioral observations to assist us to create a behavioral repertoire to correspond with otters under-going rehabilitation. These sites all have different protection statuses and therefore different threats can be measured.

During this field research we also interview locals to learn more about their knowledge of and attitude towards otters, the results of these questionnaires are likely an important stepping stone to develop education material or the need to focus on mitigation measures.

Otters at Cikananga
When a new otter arrives at Cikananga it undergoes a health assessment, with samples taken to test for various infectious diseases and parasites. It then will undergo a 30 day quarantine to monitor the health and await screening results. Cikananga is currently starting with appropriate otter quarantine facilities. Once they have cleared quarantine, otters are transferred to the Otter Rehabilitation Facility. This facility has 4 inside enclosures, 3 smaller outdoor enclosures, and 2 large rehabilitation enclosures. The rehabilitation enclosures are covered in natural vegetation, have swimming pools and burrows. When otters are in rehabilitation we aim to stimulate natural behavior, monitored by camera trap footage, whether they show appropriate behaviors such as social behaviors, nesting behavior, marking territories and hunting.

Once suitable habitat has been found after thorough habitat assessments, and otters show a natural behavioral repertoire, we will translocate otters to pre-release pens in protected areas in co-operation with government departments. The pre-release pens allow the animals to acclimatize to the local conditions. Once acclimatized, we would open the gate to the enclosures, allowing animals to ‘release themselves’ slowly. Depending on the otters behavior we provide supplementary feeding, but will decrease slowly when they start to establish their own territories to encourage otters finding their own food sources. Ideally we would like to radio track otters to establish baseline data about the survival of ex-pet otters in the wild, however we are still looking for support to make this possible.