More than 60 years after they disappeared from their natural New Mexico habitat, river otters are thriving in the state once again.
“The last known wild, or native river otter was trapped and killed in the Gila River in the 1950s,” Rachel Conn said.
Conn is the projects director for Amigos Bravos, a water conservation group based in Taos. Amigos Bravos helped in creating New Mexico Friends of River Otters back in the early 2000s.
The coalition’s goal was simple: get otters back into their natural habitat after pollution, deforestation and illegal trapping caused them to vanish from the state.
“[We] approached the Department of Game and Fish, their game commission, and advocated for a program to reintroduce river otters,” she said.
Their plea worked. Between 2008 and 2010, 33 river otters were introduced into the Upper Rio Grande at the expense of $1,000 an otter.
Since then, reported sightings were the only way the group knew how the otters were doing. That is, until this year.
“This year we initiated a new project, and that was our wildlife camera that we put out on the river in two places,” she said.
Now there’s photographic proof that the otters are alive and well. Although there isn’t a way to track the population growth, Conn is confident that the otters are thriving and reproducing. Sightings of small otters have been reported.
“They’re a beautiful species, they’re at the top of the food chain, they provide critical, important functions to the rest of the ecosystem,” Conn said.
Otters can also help diminish the amount of invasive species in our area, like crayfish. “Otters love to eat crayfish,” she said.