Otter juvenile seeks safety in PE garden

The young Cape clawless otter found in Sunridge Park
Picture: Riaan Marais

Adolescent animal surprises Sunridge family after becoming separated from its mother

A young “orphan” – separated from its mother and not yet able to fend for itself – was lucky enough to choose the right suburban garden to seek shelter in and, in so doing, ensure its rescue early yesterday.

What was meant to be a quick catch-and-release could turn into a lengthy rehabilitation for the young Cape clawless otter that wandered away from its mother and into a Sunridge Park yard.

The adolescent otter, roughly three months old, will be spending the foreseeable future with animal control specialist Arnold Slabbert, in a special enclosure, until it can fend for itself and be released back into the wild.

Sunridge Park resident Eddie Oosthuizen, 49, called Slabbert to his Carnation Avenue home shortly after 7am when his Jack Russells, Bella and Rosie, found the unexpected guest in their yard.

“The dogs were barking at a shrub below one of our windows the previous night, but I could not see anything. So I took the dogs inside for the night,” he said.

“Then this morning [yesterday] when I opened up for them, they ran straight to the same shrub and started making a racket again.

“I started poking around the plants with a stick and heard a loud hissing sound. At first I thought it was a snake, but I was very surprised when it moved and I saw it was an otter.”

Oosthuizen contacted Slabbert, who set up a cage and managed to guide the otter into it.

The otter, about a third of the size of a fully grown adult, seemed to be in good health and presumably came from the Baakens River valley that borders Sunridge Park.

The initial plan was to take it to Sardinia Bay where it could be released into the wild, further away from residential development.

However, the young animal started making odd sounds, which Slabbert’s colleague, Allison Cawood, identified as a youngster’s calls for its mother.

“That’s when we realised this little otter, while not still drinking from its mother, is still very much dependent on her for food,” Slabbert said.

“It was probably in the process of learning to hunt and fend for itself, so removing it from its mother would put it in a lot of danger.”

They considered releasing it back into the Baakens Valley, but doubted the youngster would find its way back to its mother in the vast stretch of nature reserve.

“Our main concern is that it will not find its mother and will be forced back into the residential area in search of food, where it will be at risk of being hurt by cars, people or dogs. It was a gamble we were not willing to take.”

Slabbert opted to build a special enclosure, where he can keep a close eye on the otter’s development over the next few weeks.

He hopes the otter will learn to hunt and feed itself so it can be released back into the wild.

“We see more and more wild animals appearing in built-up areas. Their natural habitats are being threatened by the long drought and encroachment by building developments.

“So we need to be sure this little one can fend for itself and avoid further contact with people once we release it,” Slabbert said.

He advised anyone who finds wild animals in their yards not to attempt catching or cornering them. He said pets must be taken inside the house to avoid injury, and an animal control specialist must be contacted immediately.

“As cute as wild animals can be, especially these otters, they are still wild animals. We have seen otters bite dogs’ tails off in fight.
“They are dangerous and should not be taken lightly.”

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