Monday, January 31, 2011

Our Orphaned Giant River Otters

Karanambu has always been well known for its wildlife and spectacular fishing, and has always been a welcome rest stop for unexpected visitors.  Diane has also always offered refuge to injured or orphaned wildlife.  The animal that appeared most often was also one of the most endangered: the Giant River Otter.  By necessity, Diane has become a world expert on the care and rehabilitation of this species.  She has raised over 50 orphaned otter cubs, returning most of them to the wild for a chance at freedom.

Please click the Karanambu Trust  Logo Button to the right to learn more:

A year ago, when we arrived at Karanambu, Diane had two tiny baby otters.  They arrived about a week apart.  One, Belle, a female, was found in the river.  It appeared that her family left her behind when they moved from one holt (otter den) to the next.  The second one, Philip, a male, was brought to Diane…we are still unsure as to how and why he became orphaned.
At first, we had to skin and bone their fish and cut it up into little strips, so that they could easily chew and digest it.  We would carry them in our arms across the compound, because the laterite gravel was too hot in the sun for their little feet.  Diane would dig a hole in the sand and we would fill it with water so they could swim.  And always, always, she would dry their bellies so that they would not develop pneumonia.
As they got older, we started taking the babies down to the river for a daily swim.  First they were carried in a pet carrier, but because of the weight, the carrier was placed in a wheel barrel and wheeled to the river. They would play, jumping in and out of the river.  By the time they would get back to their pen, they would be exhausted.  Even though Belle and Philip are not siblings, because they are growing up together, they think they are.

We have two "Waterdog Cabatash", Jasper and Devern, who spend most of each day caring for the otters.  We also have two full time fisherman who must catch a sufficient amount of fish needed to calm the babies voracious appetites.  Red Belly Piranha are their favorite food!!
Soon they became more accustomed to the river and both Belle and Philip were able to go down to the riverbank both morning and afternoon for long stretches of time.  2-1/2 hours at a time.  The "Waterdog Cabatashes" would put pre-caught fish in the river so that Belle and Philip could find the fish and begin to learn to catch their own. 
Philip and Belle are both over 1 year now.  They have been nurtured and cared for and loved by Diane. They have had their bellies rubbed dry lovingly every day & every night.  They're growing fast and will grow to be well over 6 feet from tip of nose to tip of tail.  They are mischievous and on occasion very dangerous.  They have sharp, sharp teeth.   
We want the babies to continue to be afraid or cautious when it comes to boats and people.  It will give them a better chance to make it back in the wild.  I am keenly aware if this, but one day when I went down to the landing to see the guests off, I lost my focus the boat pulled out, one of the otters came up behind me as I was waving good-bye, he took one hot bite out of the back of my ankle...blood everywhere.  I took off up the path in a mad rush, knowing I had only minutes before the pain would follow...Diane trailing behind me. I could hear her say "Oh, but it looks bad, Love."  I got back to the cabin and Salvador came to my rescue, together we cleaned it up, bandaged me good and I collapsed into the hammock to recover.
They are very cute...but do not be fooled by their cuddly appearance, they are  indeed WILD animals and can be very vicious if they feel threatened in any way or even just approached by a stranger. Caring for them is painstakingly hard work, but when they are successfully reintroduced to the wild it is most gratifing.  
In these most recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of the endangered Giant River Otters in the Rupununi River due to the efforts of Diane McTurk

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