Where you can see Giant Otters

In the Wild

  •   Diane McTurk at Karanambo Ranch, Guyana
    The well-known Diane McTurk rehabilitates orphaned giant otters in Guyana. Scientists and tourists can visit Karanambo to meet the otters.
    Zoological Society of San Diego Conservation Field Trip to Guyana
  •   Iguau National Park, Brazil
    The park shares with Iguaz National Park in Argentina one of the world's largest and most impressive waterfalls, extending over some 2,700 m. It is home to many rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, among them the giant otter and the giant anteater. The clouds of spray produced by the waterfall are conducive to the growth of lush vegetation.
    Iguau National Park, Brazil
    Iguazu Park in Argentina
  •   Manu National Park, Peru
    This huge 1.5 million-ha park has successive tiers of vegetation rising from 150 to 4,200 m above sea-level. The tropical forest in the lower tiers is home to an unrivalled variety of animal and plant species. Some 850 species of birds have been identified and rare species such as the giant otter and the giant armadillo also find refuge there. Jaguars are often sighted in the park. To give some idea of the fragmented nature of giant otter distribution, the entire two million hectare Manu Reserve system supports only 10 families (60 individuals) of giant otter (Terborgh, J. 1999. Requiem For Nature. Island Press. Washington, D.C., 234pp.).
    Manu National Park
  •   Central Suriname Nature Reserve
    The Central Suriname Nature Reserve comprises 1.6 million ha of primary tropical forest of west-central Suriname. It protects the upper watershed of the Coppename River and the headwaters of the Lucie, Oost, Zuid, Saramaccz, and Gran Rio rivers and covers a range of topography and ecosystems of notable conservation value due to its pristine state. Its montane and lowland forests contain a high diversity of plant life with more than 5,000 vascular plant species collected to date. The Reserve's animals are typical of the region and include the jaguar, giant armadillo, giant river otter, tapir, sloths, eight species of primates and 400 bird species such as harpy eagle, Guiana cock-of-the-rock, and scarlet macaw.
    Central Suriname Nature Reserve

In Captivity

The first living Giant Otter came to Europe in 1899, to Berlin Zoo. Giant Otters have been kept in North America since the 1960s, at Toledo, Bronx and St Louis Zoos, and are currently at Philadelphia Zoo.

"Historically, international census data show small populations of P. brasiliensis in captivity. Current international census data reveal that between 1998-1999 22 institutions in 11 countries (8 countries in South America) reported holding 48 otters (27.21) (Sykes 1997-99). (Census only includes individuals one year or older and the institution's census during the most recent year reported.)". Excerpts from Sykes-Gatz, 2001.

Whilst in captivity, Giant Otters thrive, and reproduce, but raising the cubs to adulthood is problematic. The oldest otters currently in captivity are at Duisburg and Dortmund Zoos; both are 15 years old (Sykes-Gatz, 2002, Pers. Comm.).

"In captivity P. brasiliensis does not appear to be particularly difficult to maintain or breed (e.g., Zeller 1960; Autorori & Deutsch 1977; Hagenbeck & Wnnemann 1992; Flgger 1997;), but successful rearing of offspring has been rare, as high cub mortality rates exist. From 1970-1998 8 institutions reported captive giant otter births (Sykes 1997-99). Of 145 cubs born live at 6 of these institutions (born 1970-1997), only 20 (13 %) were successfully reared (survived to one year of age or older). A total of only 30 cubs (from 5 of the 8 institutions) were successfully reared. From 1994-2000, only two zoos worldwide (in Brasilia and Belem) reported rearing cubs to one year or older (Sykes-Gatz 2000). Two, of the four cubs who reached this age, died as sub-adults. There are no known captive-born cubs that have been successfully reared by parents which both had been captive born. (See Chapter 3, Table 1, and Figure ! 1.)" ..."According to Hagenbeck & Wnnemann (1992), Wnnemann (1995), and Flgger (1997) successful rearing of giant otter offspring at Hagenbeck Zoo depended on the ability to isolate the parents from human disturbance and presence during cub-rearing. This study is aimed at identifying what common husbandry practices are responsible for successful parent-rearing of giant otter litters in zoos worldwide." ..."Additional data, from 1970-1997, a 27 year period, showed that 69 litters were born in six zoos (not including Cuiab Zoo and Belem Zoo data). See Table 1. (Note: Numerical data from Cuiab Zoo and Belem Zoo is not represented in the totals on Table 1, as complete historical data for litters born in previous years were unavailable. All other data on Table 1 gives a complete historical overview from the data available and these statistics are mentioned throughout this chapter.) During this 27-year period, there were 3 aborted fetuses, 4 stillbirths and 145 live births (t! otaling 152 cubs). Of the 145 live births, only 20 (13%) of the cubs survived to one year of age or older. Eighteen cubs were parent-reared and two were hand-reared. More specific data was available for 90 cubs of the 145 cubs born live (see Figure 1). The data for these 90 cubs revealed that 53% died during the first week of life. Additionally, 50% of cubs surviving to one week died before reaching four months of age." "... Conclusions Over the last 27 years (1970-1997), the rearing success of giant otters in captivity has been poor, with only 20 cubs (13%) out of 145 live born cubs (born at six zoos) surviving till one year of age or more. Results show otter cub mortality seems to occur in two phases, which suggests that different factors may be responsible; i.e. gross parental neglect in the first week (when most cubs were eaten or/and not cared for properly) and medical illness either independent of or resulting from parental neglect thereafter. To promote successful cub-r! earing giant otter parents must be provided areas where offspring can be reared in total privacy from human disturbances and presence (visual or/and acoustic caused by zoo visitors, keepers, staff, etc.) (Flgger 1997; Wnnemann 1995; Hagenbeck & Wnnemann 1992; Duplaix-Hall 1975; Autorori & Deutsch 1977; Louzada da Silva, pers. comm.; "Genealogical Meeting..." 1998; Sykes 1998).... This appears to be one of the most important management factors needed to help parents rear litters successfully. Normal human activities tolerated before parturition can cause parents significant stress at and after parturition. The presence of humans, visual or acoustical disturbances, or/and changes to the parents' physical or social environment during cub-rearing stresses the parents, which can result and has resulted in the loss of litters." Excerpts from Sykes-Gatz, 2001 Excerpts from Sykes-Gatz, 2001.

A further problem is that all the animals in Europe and North America are descended from three original individuals (Carol Heap, pers. comm.), so inbreeding is now a real problem. Since the animals are very endangered in the wild, it is important to establish a series of healthy, breeding bloodlines in different parts of the world to act as "arks" against the very real threat of extermination in the wild. The following organizations are working to that end, and have giant otters on display for you to visit.

  • The Chestnut Centre, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, England
    Home to the UK's only Giant Otter, from Dortmund. He has a large outdoor lake to swim in, and a heated indoor house with a sawdust pool he also plays in.
    My Chestnut Centre Pages
    The Chestnut Centre
  • Philadelphia Zoo, Pennsylvania, USA
    The only zoo in the USA currently exhibit Giant Otters. The giant otters here came from Hagenbecks Tierpark, Hamburg, Germany.
    Philadelphia Zoo
  • Dortmund Zoo, Germany
    This zoo acquired its otters from Hagensbecks Tierpark in 1990. The animals have an indoor and outdoor enclosure which are both used all year around. The indoor enclosure is closed off to the public and staff during cub-rearing to provide parents rearing cubs with privacy from human disturbances. Dortmund Zoo have two males and one female (Sykes-Gatz, 2002, Pers. Comm.).
    Dortmund Zoo (in German).
  •  Duisburg Zoo, Germany
    This zoo has the male otter from Hagensbeck Tierpark, and his son.
    Duisburg Zoo (in German).
Giant Otter