Otters face a “serious threat of extinction” in Israel as their population in the far north and the hilly banks of the Jordan River continues to decline, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said this week.
The percentage of habitats that support otters has fallen 44 percent this year as fish ponds recede in areas such as the Hula Valley in the far north, the group said in a report.
The authors note that a similar process took place in the Harod and Beit She’an valleys in the north before otters suddenly disappeared from those areas.
“We must remember that the otter population in Israel is small and vulnerable,” the report said, adding that Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, “is the only main focal point for a stable otter population. And as long as there are no significant or permanent habitats beyond that region, the status of otters is in serious danger of extinction in Israel.”
Regarding the decrease in the otter population in the Hula Valley, the report says researchers must examine “whether it’s a result of a year with particularly high rainfall where the water has drained downhill into rivers and reservoirs, damaging otter populations in this region.”
Amit Dolev, an ecologist at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said the fish ponds were an “alternative to a natural habitat for the otters, and the moment they disappear, all that are left are streams. The amount of area where otters can obtain food is declining.”
But he said the trend could change because various agencies were considering establishing artificial ponds for storing water; these might provide otters with an alternative breeding ground.
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Dolev said the Beit She’an Valley has a good number of fish ponds, and signs of otters were found in the area in May – suggesting that the animals might have a future there.
The report also notes a reduction in the number of otters run over by cars in the Hula Valley – two this year compared with six last year – suggesting that fewer otters were around to begin with.
Shmulik Yadov, a former director of the mammal center at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and an author of the new report, underlined that water resources were key.
“To preserve the otter population, two main things must be done: Renew and restore bodies of water in the Hula Valley and reduce the number of animals killed on the road. The nature reserves alone can’t sustain a stable population,” he said, adding that plans were in the works to address these issues.