The Eurasian Otter Project
Investigations of wild otters (Lutra lutra L.) in the Nossentiner / Schwinzer Heide national park (Mecklenburg-Western Pomrania)
Eurasian otter in the otter centre of Hankensbüttel
The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra L.) is one of the most endangered mammalian species in Europe. But very little is known about the otters living conditions and environmental requirements compared with other large mammal species. The reason for this knowledge deficit is the relative unsuitability of common wildlife research methods for otters. Direct otter observation is rare, they are hard to distinguish visually and difficult to catch or trace by radio- tracking. We lack information about population density, spatial patterns, reproduction, causes and proportion of mortality and parameters for habitat quality, which are necessary for actions in conservation and control of their success.
We use a new non-invasive method in order to gather fresh data about free-living otters - avoiding any stress for the animals. Faecal samples from wild otters can be collected easily as they are the basis for intraspecific communication. As of recently it is possible to extract DNA material from faecal samples. Through genetic analysis we can identify and count the individuals from our study population, study their spatial movements as well as sex composition. So we can research otter populations with much better results than before. In addition we will monitor the numbers of surviving animals, those found dead and those that have disappeared in order to assess the influence of road kills and fish traps as mortality factors.
The nature park "Nossentiner / Schwinzer Heide" (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), is located between Goldberg, Dobbertin, Krakow am See und Waren on an area of 36.500 ha. There are 60 lakes with an area of 4.600 ha, 2.370 ha are nature reserve. Two rivers, Nebel and Mildenitz, flow through several lakes and create a system of habitats which is attractive not only for otters. Here we defined nearly 200 sample points with periodically control of spraints.