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River Otters Returning to Texas Waterways
Sightings of the elusive Texas river otter have increased, some in unexpected places, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Biologist Gary Calkins. Otters have been spotted much farther west than expected, and even as far north as Wichita Falls.
"There were sightings in Gonzales, that was kind of a surprise," said Calkins, who leads TPWD’s tri-annual effort to survey rivers and monitor otter population trends. "But the real westerly sightings, those stick out in my mind."
Calkins started receiving reports of otter sightings after two Passport to Texas radio broadcasts about his otter research aired last year. The biologist owes the sightings to more eyes looking and increased public interest rather than any significant change in the state otter population. Passport to Texas is TPWD’s radio series of 90-second weekday feature stories airing on about 100 stations across the state.
These sightings are somewhat of a surprise, since usually otters like to keep out of sight of humans.
"Otters live in the water, and are not something people normally look for," said Calkins. "They are really kind of a shy, retiring animal and do most of their hunting right at dawn or right at dusk so they are not something you are normally going to stumble across."
Historical range maps have shown in the past otters occurring from East to Central Texas, but too much trapping in the past limited them to the eastern quarter of the state. Department reports now show that the animals are returning to their historic range.
Calkins says river otters are an indicator of how healthy the surrounding environment is. Otters feed on things like fish and crawfish, which are very sensitive to pollutants.
"If you have crawfish and a lot of prey items in the waterway, otters are going to be more noticed in the system and show that it’s generally doing well ecologically," said Calkins. "It shows there is enough food to sustain them, and the prey items are really sensitive so that’s kind of a key."
These new developments with the state’s otter population will be important in future research.
"What this is going to do is work as background information on what we do next on otter management," said Calkins.
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