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Once Thought Extinct, Giant Otter Returns

Until its recent rediscovery, the giant otter was feared extinct in Argentina as a result of habitat loss and hunting.

Giant otter spotted in Argentina.
Giant otter captured by a camera trap. Credit: Fundación Rewilding Argentina

"This really is a big animal,” says Sebastián Di Martino, conservation director of Rewilding Argentina, emphasising the “giant” in giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis).

“It can be 1.7 metres long … the biggest otter in the world. Family groups were last seen in the 1980s in the Misiones province of north-eastern Argentina,” Di Martino says. “In the Bermejo River, the last sightings occurred 130 years ago, in 1898.”

Argentina has been working to bring giant otters back to the country since 2018, concentrating efforts in the Iberá wetlands. Di Martino’s discovery kickstarted a plan to reintroduce them to El Impenetrable, too. “After seeing giant otters in the Bermejo, we could see the river is a good habitat for this species, very connected with other waterways and likely Paraguay – the closest place where there are still wild giant otters and where this one probably came from,” Di Martino explains.

“It shows us there is still hope to connect populations we are reintroducing in Iberá, and now in El Impenetrable, with the Pantanal, [which has] one of the strongest populations of giant river otters.”

There is optimism that these creatures can now repopulate areas where they were once numerous for the benefit of the ecosystem.



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