(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Conservationists will start soon surveying the country's permanent surface water sources to identify whether otters still inhabit Jordan.
The globally threatened semi-aquatic mammals used to be found in the Kingdom in sites with abundant and permanent water sources, but their numbers started dwindling due to illegal hunting, destruction of their habitat and shrinking water surfaces, according to a conservationist.
"Otters were last spotted in Jordan in 1998. They used to be found mainly in five locations extending between the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River," head of the research and survey section at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), Ehab Eid, said.
Residents of the Kingdom's northern region reported sighting otters and provided photos they took of the animal to the RSCN, according to Eid, who underscored that the animal spotted by the residents was actually a coypu and not an otter.
"Coypus are invasive animals that were brought by British soldiers to Jordan during the early 1940s for hunting and for their fur. Coypus survived well in Jordan and their numbers increased, and now people often mistake them for otters," Eid told The Jordan Times.
The coypu, also known as the river rat, is a large, herbivorous, semi-aquatic rodent. Originally native to subtropical and temperate South America, it has since been introduced to North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, primarily by fur ranchers. Although it is still valued for its fur in some regions, its destructive feeding and burrowing behaviours make this invasive species a pest throughout most of its range, according to Wikipedia.
Even if otters are no longer sighted in Jordan it does not necessarily mean they have become extinct here, Eid said, underscoring that an animal's existence has to be tracked for 50 years before announcing it as extinct in a certain area.
"What we need to find out now is whether otters are still found here or not," the RSCN researcher noted.
An otter is any of 13 living species of semi-aquatic, or in one case aquatic, mammals that feed on fish and shellfish, and also other invertebrates, amphibians, birds and small mammals, according to Wikipedia.
Otters have long, slim bodies and relatively short limbs, with webbed paws. Most have sharp claws on their feet, and all except the sea otter have long, muscular tails. They have very soft, insulated under-fur which is protected by an outer layer of long guard hair. This traps a layer of air, and keeps them dry and warm under water, Wikipedia said.
A study carried out in 2000 by the RSCN and the Jordan University of Science and Technology indicated that, as a minimum, the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers host an otter population.
The study recommended conducting a more detailed survey to increase knowledge about the otters' ecology within the Mediterranean-Arab range.