The lutra, a local type of otter, has disappeared from areas such as the Jezreel and Zevulun valleys in the north, plagued by hunting, pollution and the drying up of streams.
According to a study in the current issue of the Israeli journal Ecology & Environment, the lutra population has remained stable in a region stretching from the sources of the Jordan River in the north to the Harod and Beit She'an valleys further south. Few have been spotted in the Golan Heights.
The lutra was once found in significant numbers in many regions, including streams on the coastal plain. The animal feeds on fish in swamplands, rivers and lakes.
The lutra is now protected in Israel. Its stable presence around the Kinneret and the sources of the Jordan stems from the plentiful clean water and fish ponds. But the low water quality in the stretch of the river south of the lake poses a threat.
The recent survey was conducted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in cooperation with researchers at Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Migal, a technology center in the Galilee.
Because the lutra is nocturnal, spotting one can be a chore, so researchers frequently rely on the discovery of lutra droppings. Over the past decade, researchers have also found the carcasses of lutras that have been run over.
Scientists have suggested that the lutra be bred in captivity and released into the wild. Such a project is underway at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem.
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