African spotted-necked otter
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African spotted-necked otters are smaller than sea otters and have slim bodies and long, tapering tails. Their feetfully covered with webbinghave long, strong claws. Their fur is a uniform chocolate to reddish brown with blotches of white or creamy white markings on their throat, chest and sometimes groin areas. The pattern is unique to each otter. Their chins and upper lips can be white also.
They live in continuous waterways such as lakes, rivers and swamps that have large areas of open water surrounded by canopies of dense vegetation. When on land, they seldom venture more than 33 feet (10m) from the water’s edge. Travel on land is awkward. When not foraging or playing, they rest in rock cavities, dens, river banks and holes in root systems or dense vegetation.
The population of spotted-necked otters is decreasing due for the most part to habitat destruction, hunting and fishing practices. Agricultural development not only destroys habitats but produces sediment run-off that decreases water clarity. This threatens the spotted-necked otters since they forage primarily by sight. Introduced fish species such as Nile perch also compete with otters for small fishes.
Fishers and hunters also threaten otters. Otters become tangled in nylon nets and drown. Toxins that Nigerian fishermen put directly in the water to stun and kill fish also kill otters, either directly or indirectly. Hunters seek otters both for their fur and to sell as bushmeat. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the Lutras maculiocollis status as a lower risk/ least concern (LC) species. However, this status is in question as there has been increased pressure from encroaching human populations; and as a result the population number is unknown. Most countries protect spotted-necked otters but seldom enforce protection laws.
Since spotted-necked otters have no layer of body fat, they rely on their thick fur to keep them dry and warm in the water. The fur has two layers: a soft and wooly layer and a layer of long guard hairs. They groom their fur by rolling or rubbing against sandbars, grass or flat rocks.
These otters catch and hold prey in their mouths. They eat small fish in the water (tail first usually), but bring larger fish to shore where they can hold the fish down with their paws.
In the water crocodiles are natural predators of spotted-necked otters and on land pythons and eagles are their predators.
Mating usually occurs once a year, but can occur as many as two to three times annually. The female has a gestation period of about two months and gives birth to 1-3 pups per litter. The babies are born blind. They stay with their mothers for about one year even though they are weaned at 12-16 weeks and begin swimming at 8 weeks.