Conservation Status of the Giant Otter

Status up till 1973

Giant otters were very nearly extinct by the 1970s. Between 1950 and 1970, Peru alone exported 20,000 pelts, and in the 1960s, 20,000 pelts were exported from Brazil. For a large top-chain predator that does not live at high population densities, this was an unsupportable harvest rate.

1973 - CITES Listing

In 1973, the giant otter was listed in Appendix I of CITES (Most Restricted, Species Threatened with Extinction). This meant that all trade in its pelts was banned.


There are now estimated to be 2000 to 5000 giant otters left in South America, of which 1000 are thought to live in Guyana. Numbers did improve following protection in 1973, but since these animals have a low population density, slow reproduction rate, curious nature and covetted fur, the outlook is still grim. The World Wildlife Fund assess it as the large neotropical vertebrate most vulnerable to extinction, the IUCN rate it vulnerable, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service call it endangered. Only pockets of relative abundance remain, particularly in the north and west of its former range.

A two-pronged approach is used today to try to ensure the survival of this marvellous animal - protection in the wild and captive maintenance and breeding.

Frankfurt Zoological Society began a project in Peru in 1990, still ongoing, to understand the otters and their ecological niche. The World Wildlife Fund are working on a strategy to protect contiguous chunks of suitable habitat in its former range, especially the flooded forests of the Amazon basin.

Sheila Sykes-Gatz acts as the focal point person for giant otters in captivity for the IUCN Otter Specialist Group. Currently at Dortmund Zoo (Germany), she works hands on with the giant otter breeding/husbandry program (Sykes-Gatz, 2002, Pers. Comm).

From examination of the threats facing this animal, it is clear that it is a victim of the wider economic situation in its homelands, and solving these problems will be very difficult. In the meantime, as with many other animals, the establishment of a carefully managed captive breeding population is a very wise step so that should these creatures be wiped out in the wild, then come the time when people realise what they have lost and rebuild the habitat, there will be giant otters to recolonise.

Giant Otter