I’m so sorry it’s been a long time since my last post. You’ll be happy to know that I’m back up on my feet again after 7.5 weeks on crutches! I mean I won’t exactly be running a marathon (or running at all) any time soon, but I am well and truly on the mend.
The first weekend that I was once again crutch-free, following the ‘heels*-incident’, I wanted to make the most of being able to drive and walk again! So in my much adored little car (named ‘Honey’), which I so dearly missed whilst being out of action for a very long 2 months, my boyfriend and I went to the Otter and Owl Wildlife Park in Derbyshire.
*If you’re wondering what happened to those demon ankle-breaker high heels… I burnt them. To ash. Never to be seen, or WORN, again.
Now, you know I’m a Zoologist, so I bet you’re dying to ask me what my favourite animal is! (And possibly also if I ‘want to be a Zookeeper’ – every Zoologists biggest pet peeve of a question). Well, otters are my favourite animals! They’re absolutely adorable in every single way! Their cute little faces, the squeaky noises they make, how excitable they are! But my favourite otter fact has to be, that they hold hands when they sleep so that they don’t drift away from each other in the water! They’re a very fun and lovable species, which makes me all the more truly saddened to know that they are under threat.
Above shows a photo of a North American river otter I took at the park, eating the fish in this photo, just a few moments before it was taken, we watched the otter swim around trying to find it for ages, after eventually emerging from the water with it balancing on its head and looking very confused. It was hilarious to watch (although you could argue that I am biased by love as I could watch otters forever).
I’m sure you and I can both agree that this clumsy animal’s cuteness alone is enough to want to save it! However, besides from the fact that they are outstandingly adorable, they’re also a fundamental part of an ecosystem. This is because the sea otter is known as a keystone species, meaning that it plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy structure within the ecological community in which it lives. Without it, the system would fall apart, with detrimental effects to other members of the community. In the example of the sea otter, they are a keystone species because they eat sea urchins. Without sea otters to control the population of sea urchins, they would be left to graze on the sea kelps uncontrollably. Now, sea kelp forests are very important in a marine ecosystem, because they provide nurseries for a number of marine species, including fish, seals etc. Kelps are also good for humans, because they help to protect our coastlines from harsh wave action and erosion, which will be increasingly important with climate change leading to increased sea level and storms! So basically, without sea otters, the kelp would die (by overgrazing), then everything else would die. INCLUDING US. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there, but it would probably be helpful for us, and definitely for marine ecosystems, if we could keep the kelp forests around.
Now I’m going to tell you why they’re endangered. I bet you can guess can’t you? Yep, you got it. It’s because of us. Many species of otters have been heavily hunted in the past for their fur. Although the exploitation through the fur trade has lessened over the years, it certainly meant that otter populations took a hit. Then combined with the effects of pollution/global warming and overfishing (limiting the otters food supply), it has made it hard for the otter populations to recover.
That said, the aim of this blog was not to go on a rant about why humans are bad and how we’re ruining the beautiful natural world (even though we are), because that would be a little hypocritical of me. It was really just to educate you all of the importance of underappreciated species such as the otter species, and perhaps give a little thought about how you think you can help these species … And to show you a load of cute photos of otters…
Now if you’re still not convinced that they’re not cute or clever enough to save, then be selfish, and want to save them so that we can keep the ecosystem services provided by kelp forests to protect our coastlines, and to provide a home for enough fish for us to eat sustainably.
It was a brilliant day, and I’d really recommend going if you’re in the area! Especially as, giving a little time and money to places like this, can really make a difference to species conservation. I will tell you about this a little more in my next blog – SPOILER ALERT, I’ll be blogging about what I learnt when I was a ‘Ranger for the day’ at The Wildlife Heritage Foundation.