If you believe that you have seen an otter or otter sign - we want to know about it! To download a river otter observation sheet to record the details of your sighting please click here.
The northern river otter (Lontra canadensis) is a large and strong semi-aquatic mammal in the weasal family. Highly social, playful, and possessing seemingly unlimited energy, they are a joyful sight to the lucky observer.
Otters are more at home in the water than out of it, using water for hunting, frolicking, traveling, and as a refuge from danger. They thrive on a diet of crayfish, fish, and insects.
Their lithe, streamlined shape, powerful tails, and webbed feet make river otters expert swimmers and divers. Dense, glossy brown fur, with long guard hairs, keep them warm and dry in icy winter waters.
For thousands of years, river otters were a part of the natural environment of what is now New Mexico. As an animal at the top of the food chain otters played an important role in the aquatic habitat of rivers and streams by helping maintain the balance of native fish and other species. Otters were once abundant enough in the rivers and streams of New Mexico to have been documented many times in the diaries and journals of early travelers in the region. Historical reports indicate that river otters were present in the Gila River, the upper, and middle Rio Grande,Canadian River, and possibly the San Juan River. Pollution, deforestation and unregulated trapping caused their decline and eventual disappearance from New Mexico.
River Otter Reintroduction
In 2000, Amigos Bravos initiated its river otter restoration project. In 2006, after several studies, surveys, and meetings of the River Otter Working Group, the New Mexico Friends of River Otters was formed to serve as a critical mass of community-based environmental and wildlife organizations, representative State and Federal agencies, and a scientific advisory panel, dedicated to the successful restoration of river otters to New Mexico’s waters. Amigos Bravos is a founding member.
Extirpated from New Mexico since 1953, the river otter is viewed as an umbrella species indicative of the health and integrity of communities associated with streams and rivers. Through an integrated approach focusing concurrently on the scientific/biological basis of reintroduction (through surveys and habitat mapping and the drafting of restoration strategies and planning documents) and an educational component (targeted workshops, educational materials, and outreach efforts to gain stakeholder and decision-maker support) the project aims to replicate successful restoration projects in neighboring states of Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.
33 otters have been introduced to the Upper Rio Grande, and have been sighted near the Colorado border and as far south as Cochiti Dam. In the future we hope to reintroduce otters to their historic range in other rivers of New Mexico, including the Gila and Mora watersheds.
Sponsor an Otter!!
We need your help to pay for the otters and their transportation. The cost of reintroducing otters runs at approximately $1,000 per otter and we are looking for your help to meet these costs. If you would like to help, please send donations made out to New Mexico Friends of River Otters at:
New Mexico Friends of River Otters
c/o Amigos Bravos
P.O. Box 238
Taos, NM 87571
Help with River Otter Monitoring!
Amigos Bravos and other members of New Mexico Friends of River Otters are working with volunteers to do otter monitoring in the Upper Rio Grande watershed. To download a copy of the protocols for otter monitoring and guidance on how to identify otter tracks and scat please click here.
Rachel Conn from Amigos Bravos appeared in a video about the river otter reintroduction effort on the Albuquerque Journal website.
To learn more about food habits of the river otter, see Food Habits of the North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) (84KB pdf), prepared in 2003 by Heidi Hansen, graduate student in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming, and the Abstract on Food Habits (40KB pdf), prepared by Jon Klingel of the New Mexico Friends of River Otters.
To learn more about the feasibility of reintroducing the river otter in New Mexico, see the 2006 New Mexico River Otter Reintroduction Feasibility Study and The Case for River Otter Restoration in New Mexico (148KB pdf), by Melissa Savage (the Four Corners Institute) and Jon Klingel.