Three young otters made quite a splash when they arrived in their new home in North Wexford recently.
Released by conservationist Ronan Hannigan, the orphaned animals were hand-reared in Limerick before they were released back into their natural environment. Over the past few weeks, Ronan has been helping them to find their feet in the wild.
‘We have to do a thing called a soft release where the animal is slowly acclimatised to the wild. I try to do it over three weeks,’ he explained. ‘One day, they are just going to be gone.’
The new residents symbolise some good news for local farmers. According to Ronan, otters play an important role in controlling the mink population.
‘Dog otters are very territorial and they don’t tolerate mink who can do a lot of damage to fish stocks and wildfowl for example,’ he explained. ‘Studies show that when otters were reintroduced in rivers in England, the mink numbers declined.’
Otters can live in a combination of habitats but can only survive in clean water. Though pollution problems on Ireland’s east coast in the past caused a decline in numbers, Ronan said that improving water quality should help them to bounce back.
‘It’s good to have otters present as it means the water is clean,’ he said. ‘A selling point of Ireland should be its clean water and an otter is a symbol of that. They are like blue flags for rivers.’
Unfortunately, though pollution problems have decreased, otters are also faced with the danger posed by road traffic. As the creatures travel for lengthy distances across land, they can often be struck by passing motorists. Ronan said that overpasses and underpasses on motorways are proving to be beneficial in countries such as Germany and Canada.
‘When building motorways, it is important that we plan for wildlife passes,’ he said. ‘Creatures like otters follow the river and sometimes these intersect with roads. They need underground paths so that they can safely avoid traffic.’
(First published in the Gorey Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/young-otters-dive-into-wexford-home-34727098.html)