Giant Otters Born in Argentina Herald the Species’ Return

May 25, 2021 | Argentina, Rewilding

The birth of three giant river otter pups in an innovative rewilding program in northeast Argentina marks a milestone in efforts to return this top aquatic predator to the wetlands, thanks to the provincial government of Corrientes, Argentina’s National Parks Administration and Rewilding Argentina, the strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation. 

CORRIENTES, AR — The giant river otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, is making a powerful comeback in Argentina, where the species was believed to be extinct. On May 19th, three pups were born to Coco and Alondra, two former zoo specimens in the rewilding program of Rewilding Argentina, the strategic partner of Tompkins Conservation. The pairs’ two previous litters had been unsuccessful. Another giant river otter, Nanay, recently arrived to the program from Eskilstuna Zoo in Sweden. 

The program marks the first attempt to return the giant river otter to a habitat where humans have caused its disappearance. Since giant river otters live and hunt in large family groups, their release into the protected Iberá wetlands of Northeast Argentina has been contingent on their forming a family. 

Kristine Tompkins, President of Tompkins Conservation, celebrated the news. “These three cubs represent a future where human communities and the natural world can thrive together. As we enter the UN Decade on Ecological Restoration, I strongly believe that our most urgent task is helping nature heal. Rewilding puts us on that path.”

 Endangered globally, the giant river otter has not been seen for over 30 years in Argentina, where illegal hunting and habitat loss led to its decline. Yet, the conservation status of this charismatic and playful animal changed radically only two weeks ago, when staff of Rewilding Argentina filmed a solitary wild individual on the Bermejo River in Impenetrable National Park in the Chaco province. The closest known population of the species is some 1000 kilometers away in Paraguay.

 It’s a spectacular animal,” says Sebastián Di Martino, Conservation Director of Rewilding Argentina. The world’s largest otter, an adult can measure up to 1.8 meters and weigh 33 kilos. “As top predators, the giant river otter exerts a regulatory influence on plants and other animals which contributes to the health of aquatic ecosystems.” The Iberá wetlands are one of South America’s largest and most important watersheds.

The program is reintroducing nine other species to the wetlands, including the jaguar, the top terrestrial predator, and red-and-green macaw, which acts as a seed disperser for native vegetation that is now in short supply. Rewilding also brings new development possibilities to Iberá through wildlife observation and ecotourism, which is today one of the leading economic activities in Corrientes province. 

Iberá National Park was created in 2018 with land donations made by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins via Tompkins Conservation, in collaboration with Rewilding Argentina and local and national authorities. A driving force to curb the worldwide climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis, Tompkins Conservation has spent nearly three decades rewilding the Americas with big, wild, and connected landscapes where human communities, animals and plants can thrive.  Collaborating with public and private partners, the organization has driven the creation of 13 national parks, protecting 14.5 million acres.

May 26 is World Otter Day.