Lontra provocax


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Lontra provocax
Species Authority: (Thomas, 1908)
Common Name(s):
English Southern River Otter, Huillin
Spanish Huillín, Lobito Patagonica, Nutria de Chile
French Loutre du Chili
Lutra provocax Thomas, 1908
Taxonomic Notes: Lontra provocax had been considered a subspecies of L. canadensis (Davis 1978). It was placed in the genus Lontra by van Zyll de Jong (1987). Koepfli and Wayne (1998) and Bininda-Emonds et al. (1999) supported the separation of New World otters into genus Lontra from Lutra, except Pteronura.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A3cde ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-06-01
Assessor(s): Sepúlveda, M.A., Valenzuela, A.E.J., Pozzi, C., Medina-Vogel, G. & Chehébar, C.
Reviewer(s): Hussain, S.A. & Duplaix, N.
Contributor(s): Alvarez, R. & Fasola, L.

This species is considered to be Endangered under criterion A3cde due to projected future population decline due to habitat loss. Accelerating habitat destruction and degradation throughout the Southern River Otter's range is the greatest threat to the species, and is projected (based on current trends) to lead to a future >50% reduction in population size over the next 30 years (three generations based on Pacifici et al. 2013) for those subpopulations using rivers and lakes (freshwater habitats). For the subpopulations using the southern fjords and islands (marine habitats) of Chile the population may reduce to 50% over the next 30 years due to the impacts of intensive fishery activities. The distribution of the Southern River Otter has declined drastically due to combined pressures from the destruction of habitat, removal of vegetation, river and stream canalization, and extensive dredging (Medina 1996, Medina-Vogel et al. 2003). At present, poaching is a minor problem but still occurs particularly south of 43°S latitude where control of hunting is difficult to implement. Extirpation of the Southern River Otter began in local basins but has become widespread. The lack of re-establishment of the species is probably due to high mortality or reproductive failure following the dispersal of otters into unsuitable areas (Medina 1996). This is resulting in a population that is becoming increasingly fragmented and more susceptible to local extinctions through habitat destruction, human disturbance, predation by domestic dogs, and demographic or environmental stochastic events. Genetic studies have confirmed a lower genetic diversity in the northern freshwater subpopulations in comparison to those from the south confirming a past bottleneck probably due to anthropogenic factors (Centron et al. 2008, Vianna et al. 2011).

2008 Endangered
2004 Endangered
2000 Endangered
1996 Vulnerable
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Southern River Otter occurs in Chile and Argentina in freshwater and marine environments. The freshwater distribution is located in the northern part of the otter’s range and was historically wider in both countries. In Chile, river otters occurred from Cachapoal River (34ºS) (Gay 1847, Reed 1877) up to the Peninsula de Taitao (46ºS) with a continuous distribution in rivers and lakes (Medina 1996). The current distribution in Chile has been strongly restricted from north to south due to land use change and human colonization (Medina 1996), as a consequence, the otter populations are only found at present from the Imperial River (38ºS ) (Rodríguez-Jorquera and Sepúlveda 2011) to the south. In Argentina freshwater subpopulations were distributed historically from the Neuquen Province (36ºS) to the Lake Buenos Aires (46ºS) and mostly associated with water courses from the Andean Range and the steppe (Valenzuela et al. 2012). The present freshwater distribution in Argentina is mostly restricted to the Limay watershed, mainly within the Nahuel Huapi National Park (Chehebar 1985, Cassini et al. 2010, Valenzuela et al. 2012).

Southern River Otter subpopulations that inhabit marine environments are distributed along the Pacific coast of Chile from 46ºS to Tierra del Fuego in Chile (Cabrera 1957, Redford and Eisenberg 1992, Sielfeld 1992, Malmierca et al. 2006). In Argentina, marine subpopulations are present only in the Archipielago Fueguino in Los Estados Island and the Beagle Channel (Malmierca et al. 2006, Valenzuela et al. 2012, Valenzuela et al. 2013). Marine river otters in Argentina are probably a continuous subpopulation of the main otter subpopulation in Chile (Sielfeld 1992).
Argentina; Chile
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Because most studies on this species have been made based on indirect signs of the species there are no estimates of the size of their subpopulations. The freshwater subpopulations have been studied more than those in marine environments. Monitoring of signs such as faeces or tracks has been implemented particularly for the population in Nahuel Huapi National Park in Argentina by the Administration of National Parks for over 30 years (Chehebar 1985, Chehebar et al. 1986, Chehébar and Porro 1998, Aued et al. 2003, Cassini et al. 2009, Pozzi and Chehebar 2013). A relatively stable otter distribution has been observed in this area with some marginal expansion outside the Nahuel Huapi Park in the Limay River (Carmanchahi et al. 2006). In this population recent volcanic activity during 2011 could have disrupted freshwater ecosystems and consequently affecting the otter population, but there are no studies on the subject, which are of utmost urgency.

Freshwater subpopulations have been described as fragmented and comprised of seven isolated subpopulations (Medina 1996) but subsequent surveys have identified presence in areas previously thought not to have otters (Rodríguez et al. 2008); it is not clear if this is the result of a recent recolonization or sampling bias in earlier studies, and more research is needed. A radiotelemetry study in the Queule River found densities of 0.25 otters/km of river (Sepúlveda et al. 2007).

Studies of the marine population in Chile indicate that the otter distribution in this environment would be continuous and abundances estimated are 0.57 otters/km of coast (Sielfeld 1992). Studies based on indirect signs in marine populations in Argentina, indicate two separate subpopulations, one in Isla de Los Estados (Provincial Reserve) and the other in Bahia Lapataia, Tierra del Fuego National Park, in the Beagle Channel (Valenzuela et al. 2012).

During 1910-1954 a total of 38,263 otter pelts (Lontra felina and L. provocax) were exported from Chile but after that period no exports exist due to the implementation of different laws and international agreements (Iriarte and Jaksic 1986) .
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

The Southern River Otter is distributed in the southern temperate forest of South America. This species presents a distribution associated with inland waters in the northern parts of its range, and marine habitat in the southern part of its range. In freshwater habitats otters are associated with the presence of macro-crustaceans from the genus Aegla spp. and Sammastacus spp. (Aued et al. 2003, Cassini et al. 2009, Sepúlveda et al. 2009), which are the otter’s main prey (Medina 1997, Medina-Vogel and Gonzalez-Lagos 2008, Fasola et al. 2009, Rodríguez-Jorquera and Sepúlveda 2011, Franco et al. 2013). Other species of crustaceans, fish and amphibians are also in the otter’s diet but are of marginal occurrence. The otter use rivers with abundant vegetation (Chehebar et al. 1986, Medina-Vogel et al. 2003) and inhabit diverse types of wetlands including Andean lakes, rivers of different sizes, ponds and estuaries. A study using telemetry described an average home range of 11.3 km, with solitary behaviour and a low spatial overlap between individuals of same sex suggesting intrasexual territoriality (Sepúlveda et al. 2007). In the marine range the species uses the marine rocky coast with abundant vegetation cover and low exposure to wind and waves (Sielfeld 1992, Sielfeld and Castilla 1999). In this environment the Southern River Otter is sympatric with the Marine Otter (L. felina), but the later is segregated by its use of more wave-exposed coastal areas (Sielfeld 1992, Ebensperger and Botto-Mahan 1997). The diet in the marine environment is composed of coastal fish of the genera Harpagifer, Patagonotothen, Eleginops, Cottoperca and crustaceans of the genera Munida, Taliepus, Cancridae, Galatheidae, Lithodidae, Lithodes, Paralomis and Campylonotus (Sielfeld and Castilla 1999, Valenzuela et al. 2013). In general for both marine and inland waters the Southern River Otter seems to be a specialized aquatic bottom forager preying on slow benthic fish and crustaceans.

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The animals are hunted for their pelts which are used to make clothing.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The Southern River Otter habitat is very sensitive to anthropogenic impacts (Medina-Vogel et al. 2003, Sepúlveda et al. 2009, Valenzuela et al. 2013). In those subpopulations inhabiting freshwater environments the high demand for water by human activities such agriculture, human use, etc. is altering watercourses through canalization and drainage and loss of riparian vegetation. These activities are promoted to increase the amount of agricultural lands but are impacting those otter subpopulations distributed in lowlands, particularly in the Central Valley and the Coastal Range of Chile (Medina-Vogel et al. 2003, Sepúlveda et al. 2009). In the case of Andean lakes, where the species occurred historically, the high level of urbanization and tourism has been proposed as the main causes responsible for the local extinction of the species in those areas (Medina 1996). Other threats are poaching (Medina 1996, Espinosa 2012), predation by free-ranging domestic dogs (Espinosa 2012) and transmission of diseases such as Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) (Sepúlveda et al. 2014). Free-ranging dogs are an important threat to carnivores because of predation and disease transmission (Vanak and Gompper 2009), and are present in rural and protected areas where the Southern River Otter occurs (Sepúlveda et al. 2014). Implementing dog population control measures as well as vaccination programmes are an important measure to mitigate the impact of dogs on this species (Sepúlveda et al. 2014). In several parts of the otter's distribution range, hydroelectric dams are installed or are planned to be built in the near future but no research on the potential impact of these on the otters has been conducted so far. The presence of wild exotic salmon and the salmon farming industry are suggested as a potential threat to otter prey leading to potential competition between otters and salmon (Medina 1996, Aued et al. 2003, Cassini et al. 2009) but no studies have confirmed this as yet. In relation to the invasive American Mink (Neovison vison), although several studies have investigated competition between these mustelids and river otters (Medina 1997, Aued et al. 2003, Fasola et al. 2009, Valenzuela et al. 2013), there is no clear evidence of a negative effect of the mink on the otter. Indeed, current studies in the marine part of the range suggest a negative effect of otters over minks by habitat (Valenzuela et al. 2013) and temporal segregation (Medina‐Vogel et al. 2013). The invasive mink is a potential vector of CDV to otters given their behavioural similarities and sharing of latrines (Sepúlveda et al. 2014).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Southern River Otter is listed on CITES Appendix I and listed on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Appendix I.

In Chile, the conservation status is listed by the Reglamento de Clasificación de Especies as Endangered in VI, VII, VIII, IX, XIV and X Districts and as Data Deficient in XI and XII Districts (Chile 2011). In Chile, the Subsecretaria de Pesca is the governmental agency responsible of their conservation and management. In those populations inside official protected areas the Corporacion Nacional Forestal is responsible of their conservation. National Action plans in Chile are developed by the Minisiterio del MedioAmbiente, but despite it’s conservation status no Action Plan exists for this species at present, which is the most urgent conservation action priority. Hunting is prohibited since 1929 in Chile (Iriarte and Jaksic 1986) and the governmental agency responsible for hunting permits and enforcement is the Servicio Agricola y Ganadero.

In Argentina the conservation status is Endangered (EN A3cd) (Valenzuela et al. 2012). At national level, the governmental agency responsible of native wildlife conservation and management is the Secretaría de Ambiente y DesarrolloSustentable de la Nación through the Dirección de Fauna Silvestre. The Administración de Parques Nacionales (National Parks Administration) is responsible of conservation of those populations inside the national protected areas, where the species is classified as Special Value Species (APN 1994.). The two populations in Argentina from freshwater and marine habitats are mostly inside national protected areas.

Because of the several agencies involved in the management of the species a strong coordination with clear responsibilities and a work agenda is a major urgency in the short term. Actions recommended for both Chile and Argentina are:
  • To develop a Conservation Bi-National Plan for the species;
  • To develop specific National Conservation Plans for each country;
  • To develop validated Monitoring Programmes in protected and unprotected lands;particularly in Chile where there is no such activity in any population; and
  • To reinforce the importance of environmental impact assessment projects in relation to the species in order to adequately determine: a) presence of otter population in areas of projects, and b) in those projects requiring to implement adequate actions to incorporate: 1) measures of monitoring, 2) mitigation and 3) compensation activities.

There have not been any reintroduction attempts, which could be an appropriate conservation action considering the success of such plans in North American and European species. Although otters are one of the most appealing species in zoo/aquarium exhibitions providing good opportunities for education and awareness about conservation issues in aquatic environments, no known individuals of the Southern River Otter are currently in captivity and there are no historical records for any captive animals.

Bibliography [top]

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Citation: Sepúlveda, M.A., Valenzuela, A.E.J., Pozzi, C., Medina-Vogel, G. & Chehébar, C. 2015. Lontra provocax. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 01 July 2015.
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