Another wild animal pet craze is sweeping Southeast Asia, pushing three of the four remaining otter species towards extinction, and fueling poaching and trafficking throughout their home ranges.
World Animal Protection (WAP) conducted an undercover investigation into the impact of this trend, and the results are incredibly concerning.
Japan, in particular, is going otter mad. Instagram posts featuring pet otters are numerous and exceedingly popular, and there are many otter cafes where people go to interact with these captive animals.
In Indonesia, the public can easily purchase otters online which have been taken from the wild or bred by inexperienced breeders. Even in Thailand, where it is illegal to hunt, keep or sell otters, the trade is rampant.
Otter families are fiercely bonded, and the parents are incredibly protective of their cubs. To take babies from the wild, poachers shoot or electrocute the parents, or smoke out the nests to grab the helpless infants.
Three otter species left in Southeast Asia are now in danger of extinction: the small-clawed, smooth-coated and hairy-nosed otters.
Although there is no denying these mammals are adorable, they are wild animals and are not suited — either physically or behaviorally — to domestication or captivity.
Highly intelligent, active and social animals, otters live in family groups of up to 20 individuals. Physically, they are designed for a largely aquatic life; they have webbed feet and a waterproof coat, and live in and along waterways.
In captivity, a paddling pool, bathtub or bucket is simply not enough to satisfy their endless curiosity and energy. Often, they are kept in solitary confinement, which leads to negative behaviors like circling, aggression and self-harming.
“Being cute is no justification for denying wild animals their freedom by keeping them locked up in someone’s home,” says Ben Williamson, US Campaigns Director for WAP. “There is no way to replicate the space and freedom these otters enjoy in the wild. Regrettably, social media is increasing the worrying trend of keeping wild animals as pets. Influencers who present otters as fun and cool pets are perpetuating a trade that ignores the complex habitat, nutrition, and health needs of the animal.”
WAP is supporting recent proposals to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which suggest upgrading the small-clawed and smooth-coated otters to an Appendix 1 status, thus enabling authorities to monitor and enforce illegal activity more closely and restrict captive breeding.
No matter how appealing otters are, they are wild animals and should never be subjected to a life of suffering either as pets or as a form of entertainment. If you see “cute” otter videos promoting them as pets on social media, please speak out and educate others on the reality of this heartbreaking trend.