(UNDATED) - Indiana is finally seeing the full benefits of an otter reintroduction program that began more than three decades ago.
According to Shawn Rossler, furbearer biologist with Indiana Department of Resources, out of Indiana's 92 counties, 87 percent have documented river otters, which show they've been successful at moving into new areas following their initial reintroduction.
The process began in the 1980s in 20 states. Indiana conducted a study in 1993 and 1994 on water quality. Between 1995 and 1999, 303 otters from Louisiana were picked up and released in 1995 at 12 locations, six in northern Indiana and six in southern Indiana. These sites included Patoka Lake, Jefferson Proving Grounds and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.
Now the otters are moving into central Indiana, although none have been reported in Monroe County. The reintroduction efforts were so successful that otter were removed from the state endangered species list in 2005. Eventually as numbers increase there will be a trapping season for otters.
The river otter is a member of the weasel family.
In Indiana, the river otter was extirpated by 1942 and was reintroduced in Indiana between 1995 and 1998.
The tail of a river otter makes up just over a third of its body length. A full-grown male will weigh between 12 and 20 pounds.
The river otter was once found throughout most of Canada and the United States, except for some parts of the Southwest. It was found in all the major watersheds across the U.S. and was a valuable furbearing animal hunted and trapped by early settlers. Loss of habitat, human encroachment and unregulated fur harvest all contributed to the river otters' declining population.
River otters became a protected species in 1921 in Indiana, but it was too late to save the species in the state.
River otters need a lot of wetland habitat with aquatic vegetation. The animals can be found in lakes, rivers, streams, ditches and ponds.
The first restoration efforts in Indiana were in 1995, when 25 otters from Louisiana were freed at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour. The first river otters were released on Jan. 17, 1995. A total of 12 releases happened between 1995 and 1999.
Source: "Mammals of Indiana," John O. Whitaker Jr. and Russell E. Mumford, Indiana University Press.
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