These Otters Are Popular Pets in Asia. That May Be Their Undoing
We smelled them before we saw them. Amid an overwhelming reek of urine and scat, we descended a tight staircase into a cramped basement, where tattered ottomans faced a small wire cage.
Within the cage stood the star attractions and source of the odor: four Asian small-clawed otters. Spotting us, the animals burst into chirps, whimpers, shrieks and screams.
After passing around a laminated sheet with warnings printed in Japanese, Mandarin and English (“Otters sometimes become violent”), a handler opened the cage. The animals bolted out and flew about the room, racing over laps and gobbling down kibbles.
Their tubular brown bodies felt like slick, furry throw pillows, and their animated, whisker-framed faces were like those of puppies. Selfies proved difficult: Throughout our 30-minute session, the otters never stopped moving.
Otters are smelly, loud and extremely active; they have sharp teeth and jaws strong enough to crack open shellfish. But in Japan, where more than a dozen animal cafes now feature otters, they have become sought-after exotic pets, displacing owls, slow lorises, sugar gliders and star tortoises.
Many cafes and pet shops sell otters to anyone interested in taking one home. “We’re seeing a rapid increase in demand as the popularity of keeping otters as pets keeps growing,” a cafe attendant told our group. “But the supply isn’t catching up.”
Pet otters aren’t just big in Japan. They also are increasingly common in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. The internet has largely driven the “logarithmic increase” in their popularity and trade as pets, said Nicole Duplaix, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University and co-chairwoman of the otter committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Where are all of these pets coming from? Otters are difficult to breed in captivity without proper techniques. Many conservationists believe that the majority of animals sold as pets are captured in the wild.
Threatened smooth-coated otters and endangered hairy-nosed otters, both found in Southeast Asia, are sometimes caught up in the pet trade. But Asian small-clawed otters, a “terminally cute” threatened species, tend to be the primary targets for poachers, Duplaix said
文／Rachel Nuwer 譯／陳韋廷