Hunts small animals, mainly water dwellers, such as fish, crustaceans, and amphibians, as well as birds, eggs, rodents, insects, and some vegetarian food.
Habitat destruction mainly by dehydration and pollution ofrivers and freshwater bodies.
The Nature and Parks Authority, along with the Biblical Zoo, has embarked on a national program for the protection, breeding, and returning to the wild of the Eurasian otter in Israel. The critical status of the Eurasian otter has brought all players in the field to a dramatic and exceptional process – capturing individuals from the wild, from the small population that remains, to establish a breeding group at the Biblical Zoo. This group will serve as backup to the endangered population living in the wild. The goal is to return the offspring which are born back to the wild and to recover the otter population in Israel, to return them to their aquatic habitats from which they have disappeared in recent years in Northern Israel. The Biblical Zoo regards its participation in the program as the very essence of the role of a modern zoo.
Quite dramatically, the individuals of the breeding group were captured from the wild and transferred to a unique structure built at the zoo, thanks to donations raised by the Zoo Friends. Offspring of the otters from the group are intended for supervised return to the wild in the areas from which otters have disappeared, with the chance of protecting their habitat in the future.
The otter is an individual animal, which mates only for the sake of breeding. After a two-month gestation, the female gives birth to one to four cubs, who are cared for by the mother for their first year of life. During this time, the cubs rely upon their mother to provide food, to teach them how to hunt and how to protect themselves from predators. To ensure the best conditions for breeding, with the support of the Zoo Friends, the Zoo built a system of enclosures, only one of which is visible to Zoo visitors. This system includes four enclosures, which keeps each otter in its own separate section, as well as a larger area for the young offspring, prior to their release to the wild, and with no exposure to human contact. The condition for success of the program is creation of conditions which enable the release of the otters, which are naturally fearful of humans and vehicles. Otters are shy animals and active at night, and thus seeing them is difficult and requires a combination of luck and patience. To ensure the project’s success in returning the otters to the landscapes of Israel, we request your assistance in maintaining the quiet near the otter enclosure and remaining only within the area designated for visitors.
The habitat and distribution of the Eurasian otter is varied but always near freshwater, either natural or artificial. Their distribution includes most of Europe and Asia, except for Arctic and desert regions. In Israel, otters can be seen in rivers and bodies of freshwater in the Galilee, the Golan, and the Jordan Valley. In the past, otters could be seen in rivers in Central Israel and along the coast, however these populations have become extinct.
Photo: Shai Ben Ami