Through their research, CREW scientists have been able to characterize the basic reproductive biology of four otter species – North American river otter (Lontra canadensis); Asian small-clawed otter (Amblonyx cinerea), Giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Spotted-necked otter (Lutra maculicollis). In an effort to successfully breed otters in human care, a better understanding of their biology and use of hormone analysis has been key.
Efforts to maintain self-sustaining otter populations in zoos have been unsuccessful due, in part, to poor reproductive success in zoos. CREW scientists have been effectively using a non-invasive method of hormone analysis to learn about the different reproductive characteristics for each of the otter species. This research and technology has enabled CREW scientists to assist many AZA institutions in determining pregnancy and possible birth dates, resulting in improved zoo breeding management of otters.
Worldwide, nine of 13 species of otters are listed as threatened or endangered by IUCN. Otters face a large number of threats from habitat destruction, habitat alteration (such as dams, fish farms), water pollution, poaching for fur, and decreased food availability.
The information gained from our research at CREW has increased our understanding of both wild and zoo otter biology and will lead the way for further development of assisted reproductive technologies. Maintaining healthy populations is particularly important to the endangered species of otters, such as giant otters in Brazil, whose numbers continue to decrease in the wild. Habitat protection, including good water quality, will also be needed for survival of otters in the wild.