Preparing the Return of the European Otter, Switzerland
© Jutta Jahrl
To analyse the causes of extinction to take measures for the return of European otters in Switzerland
The European otter, Lutra lutra, was widely distributed throughout Switzerland until the late 19th century inhabiting all water bodies in which fish or frogs occurred. Considered a pest, its eradication had been supported by the Government since 1888, when the first Law on Fisheries was adopted. This led to a massive depletion of the population within a few decades. In 1952, the otter became a protected species under the Hunting Law. At that time there were still about 100 otters living mainly in inaccessible river gorges and the Midland lakes. In spite of the protection, the population continued to collapse. A reintroduction attempt in 1975, where eight otters from Bulgaria were released to the Schwarzwasser River south of Berne, failed. Since 1980, only sporadic observations of single individuals have been made, e.g. in the Lake of Neuchâtel. Despite extensive research, the cause for this extinction has not yet been clearly scientifically defined, but is probably a combination of several factors, including toxic or hormonally active substances in the environment, loss of suitable habitat and a decrease of the fish stocks.
With the aim of analysing the causes of the extinction and take measures for a return of the otter, the foundation Pro Lutra
was established in 1997. The foundation undertakes, or supports,
habitat studies in Switzerland and analyses the status of otter
populations in neighbouring countries. Currently a research project in
Styria (Austria) is underway. The foundation is also very active in
educating the public about the plight of the otter. To this end a
touring exhibit has been developed by the Museum of Nature of the Grisons, which was shown until June 2007 at Chur, and subsequently at
Zurich Zoo and other places. Pro Lutra raises funds and
collaborates with other organisations with a view of facilitating the
return of the otter or, eventually, proceeding to a reintroduction.
WAZA Conservation Project 08006 is implemented by the foundation Pro Lutra with the support of the Zurich Zoo, the Museum of Nature of the Canton of Grisons, and the Zurich Animal Protection Society.
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© Jutta Jahrl