Dead Otter in Midsomer Norton, North East Somerset
In December 2014 an otter was seen in Midsomer Norton by many people; apparently very tame and accepting of people. What was probably likely to be the same otter was found dead on 16 December. There has been a lot of interest in the appearance and death of this individual otter from local people and press. To provide some insight into what is known about this case and what kills otters more generally, the Somerset Otter Group provides the following information.
The cause of death has yet to be established with certainty. From its final location it could have been struck by a car. But its initial tame behavior was not normal for an otter and it was possibly already very sick. There were observations that it was limping, often fight injuries with other otters cause infections to which the otter succumbs, which would explain its emaciated state when found dead.
The body was found by Jodey May on her driveway and collected from her by Somerset Otter Group, it has been transferred to a freezer at the RSPCA centre at West Hatch, from where it will be sent to Cardiff University for an autopsy. When results of the autopsy are available we will publish them on the Somerset Otter Group website.
The Somerset Otter Group, together with the Environment Agency, collates and collects all dead otters reported to them and those collected are currently sent to the Cardiff University Otter Project, which runs a long term environmental surveillance scheme, using otters found dead to investigate contaminants, disease, and population biology across the UK. They have examined otters from Somerset since 2007. Prior to this date, wildlife vet Vic Simpson conducted the autopsies.
The Somerset Otter Group has been collecting dead otters since 1996 and will shortly publish the results of the largest study of otter mortality in Europe. In the last two years (2012-13) the group has recorded 51 otter deaths in Somerset, of these 39 were collected and sent for autopsy. 90% died as the result of being hit by a car. Other causes of death have been starvation and wounds from fighting. Obviously, an otter killed on a road is much more likely to be found dead than one that dies in a quiet back water and so the importance of traffic casualties is exaggerated, but from our knowledge of the population of otters in Somerset and the number of cubs being born we can conclude that traffic accidents kill most otters in Somerset.
The Somerset Otter Group has worked closely with the Environment Agency and Highways Agency in recent years to reduce otter road mortality at key sites where otters were being killed regularly. Tunnels, underpasses, fencing, ledges under bridges, reflectors and steps beside weirs all assist to mitigate otter deaths on roads in the county.
Somerset Otter Group
29 December 2014