Did you say river otters in the Rio Grande? That is correct; between 2008 and 2010, 33 river otters were released into the upper Rio Grande. Since then, there have been many sightings of these intelligent and playful animals, some as far south as Cochiti Lake. Their webbed feet and muscular tails make them powerful swimmers. To enhance the already existing otter population’s genetic diversity, nine more otters were released this spring.
“The Department started looking into the possibility of doing a release in the summer of 2020,” said Nicholas Forman, Carnivore and Small Mammal Program Manager, for the Department. “This was partly motivated by a study that found some lower than expected genetic diversity in our reintroduced otter population on the Rio Grande.” By the end of last fall, a plan to reintroduce more otters in the spring of 2021 was developed.
The newly relocated otters came from Abbeville, Louisiana. With the help of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the Department contacted trapper Ryan Schaefer, who removes nuisance otters depredating on crawdad farms. Schaefer works with LDWF to transfer the otters he catches to zoos or other states where there is a need for them.
The otters were flown from Louisiana to New Mexico, free of charge, thanks to Light Hawk Conservation Flying, a company that accelerates conservation success through the powerful perspective of flight. Seven of the otters were released on the Rio Grande River north of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and two of the otters were released in Diablo Canyon, north of Santa Fe.
This release couldn’t have been possible without the help from the Bureau of Land Management, Taos field office, Louisiana Department of Wildlife Fisheries, otter trapper Ryan Schaefer and Light Hawk Conservation Flying. Successful conservation efforts are the result of many conservation groups working together for the overall good of wildlife, and this project was proof of that.
If you happen across one of these intelligent and playful animals, please send Nick an email at Nicholas.Forman@state.nm.us with a picture, if possible, and where you saw it. Information like this provided by the public is essential and helps with management.