As fall and winter begin in the US, the dry season in Guyana is just starting. The rains have moved out, water levels starts to recede and the giant otters begin to reappear from their elusive rainy season locations. During this season, it is not uncommon to observe new cubs undergoing their rigorous swim tests and clumsy one year cubs scrambling to catch fish along the river’s edge. Mom and dad otter are never too far out of sight. They stay on constant alert and never let their guard down.
Save the Giants begins otter surveys as soon as the river banks emerge from the water and there are signs of otters in the area: fresh latrines, scratch marks, tail slides and fresh den digs. During the first few surveys, there are few, if any actual otter sightings. Mama otters are holed up in the dens and are busy tending to their newborn cubs, papa otters are busy tending to mama otters and juvenile otters are tending to the younger cubs from the previous year. It’s definitely a family affair, all “paws” on deck situation!
On the last survey, conducted by our field manager, Kenneth and our boat captain/research assistant, Oswin they ran into one of our favorite otter families! We have observed this particular group for over 3 years and I cannot recall conducting a river survey where we didn’t run into these guys. Giant otters are matriarchal, (where my ladies at?). In this group, we have given our alpha female the name “Pac Man (woman),” because of her oddly shaped and almost “pac-manish” neck markings. If you look just close enough, you may be able to spot the shapes that we are referencing.
It is always exhilarating to see the season’s first pictures and videos come in from the field. These pictures are more than just data. These are pictures of families. Families that the team of Save the Giants have grown to love over the years. We recognize the cubs from year to year and sadly, we recognize the absence of a cub. Last year, we said goodbye to one of our favorite dominant males and watched as a younger, and perhaps more suitable young male took over his position. Field work is bitter sweet and you have to take the good with the bad. With each survey period, the team learns important lessons that help improve our data collection methods.
When a species is slowly creeping closer and closer to extinction, every single individual matters. The data that we collect on each survey is critical in mapping the population distribution and gene flow of the giant otters in Guyana and ultimately to the long term preservation of this species.
With all of that being said, this project would not be possible without all of YOU back at home. Your support, both emotionally and financially continues to be the backbone of this effort. The otters, as well as the entire team, send you a GIANT THANK YOU!
NOW – enjoy some otter pictures!