AR-News: (IN) Otters making comeback along Tippecanoe River
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Sun Oct 12 17:01:09 EDT 2003
By JENNIFER OCHSTEIN
Tribune Staff Writer
River otters have been making a comeback in the Tippecanoe River as a result
of reintroduction efforts by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources from
Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy
PLYMOUTH -- Fur trappers of the 1800s had one thing in mind when they looked
at North American river otters in Indiana's rivers, and it wasn't that they
The trappers had dollar signs in their eyes.
Otter pelts were considered valuable, and the animals were trapped and killed
so their numbers dwindled beyond natural repair.
"They thought there was a limitless supply," said Scott Johnson, an Indiana
Department of Natural Resources non-game wildlife biologist.
There were no laws in place at that time to control the trapping trade,
Johnson said. The result was that the animal was decimated and put on the
endangered species list.
Johnson said the animals were officially extirpated by 1942 "but it was well
before 1942" that the animals disappeared from Indiana.
Realizing there is never a limitless supply of natural resources, today's
trappers work with the DNR to bring them back.
According to Johnson, trappers in Louisiana trapped river otters in coastal
areas. They were then brought to Indiana to serve in a program begun in 1995 by
the DNR to repopulate Indiana with river otters. The last release of otters
in Indiana was 1999 and a total of 303 were released during the four-year
Now, four years later, Johnson, who has worked since the beginning of the
project, has called the project a short-term success.
"It seems to be going well," Johnson said.
Otters are being spotted more and more in area rivers, including the
Tippecanoe. The Tippecanoe, which runs through Marshall County, was one of the six
rivers chosen in which to reintroduce the otters.
He said 50 otters were released at two sites along the Tippecanoe River, one
on private property in Etna Green, located on the Kosciusko and Marshall
County line. Twenty-five animals were released at each location.
"We're working on population models now," Johnson said, though that model is
not specific to any one area where the otters were released. "They seem to be
doing well, but we don't have estimates" on the actual numbers of otters now
populating Indiana rivers.
Oddly enough, one indication that the numbers of otters are increasing comes
from their deaths.
Johnson explained the numbers of dead otters, usually hit by cars or
accidentally caught in traps, have increased over the years. It is illegal to trap the
"It used to be 10 to 12 moralities per year," Johnson said. "Over the past
two years, we've had over 40."
He also explained that 303 otters brought to Indiana were marked by the DNR
to identify the ones that arrived originally.
The numbers of those marked animals being found dead are dwindling now and
more unmarked animals are being found, which has indicated that the original 303
were breeding, Johnson explained. And even though he's confident the numbers
of otters are rising, the public reports about otter sightings have declined
because "they're less of a novelty now" since their numbers have been growing.
Johnson explained that the DNR is currently working with an advisory
committee to determine at what point during the reintroduction process otters will no
longer be considered endangered. That has not been decided yet, Johnson said.
The reintroduction of the otters and their repopulation in Indiana make river
systems in Indiana healthier, Johnson explained.
"They're the top dog in the food chain," he said, noting that 90 percent of
an otter's diet is fish.
He called them opportunistic predators, which means they will pretty much eat
anything they can catch.
Natural restoration is the legal responsibility of the DNR for the benefit of
people in Indiana, Johnson said.
"Otters were gone because of problems caused by man," and it's the
responsibility of the DNR to correct those problems caused by man, Johnson said.
Staff writer Jennifer Ochstein:
jochstein at sbtinfo.com
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