Christmas came late — in the form of a dead otter

December 30, 2019

Otters are a “near-threatened” species in the UK, so it’s a tragedy when one is killed by a car. That said, when a roadkill otter is spotted by a friend and delivered to me five days after Christmas, that goes some way to redeeming the tragedy.

So far as I can determine, while otters are protected by law in the UK, there’s nothing saying that a roadkill otter can’t be kept for scientific purposes. So here is Eleanor the dead otter:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but it does, to find that an otter is a pretty substantial animal. Mine measured at 111 cm from snout to tail, and 69 cm from snout to the base of the tail. Here’s where I considered the base of the tail to be:

Maximum girth is difficult to measure. I ended up taking three measurements: when the tape is left relaxed around the torso, it yielded 50 cm; when I tightened it as one does with a belt, it came down to 44 cm; and I judged that 48 cm was the best true value.

The animal masses about 7.6 kg — including the neglilgible weight of two Lidl carrier-bags that I wedged it into. That compares with 5.2 kg and 100 cm total length for a fox that I buried ten years ago, and a very impressive 12 kg and 75 cm for a badger of the same vintage. (These are not the same fox and badger that I decapitated a while ago, but from memory they were about the same size.)

Like the badger — though not to the same extent — the otter is a serious piece of animal. It has short, heavily muscled forearms that I would not want to be on the wrong end of:

Its head is not obviously damaged, but with its eyes closed and its mouth clamped shut in rigor mortis, there’s not much to see at this stage:

That will obviously change when I get its skull out — but that is a project for the spring. It’s too cold and nasty outside for this kind of work. For now, Eleanor will rest in peace in our woodshed.

An otter is a rare find, and I have no expectation of ever acquiring another one — unlike foxes and badgers, which crop up maybe once a year or so on average. So I hope I can make the time to treat this with the reverence it deserves, and extract the whole skeleton (as I did with my monitor lizard) rather than just the charismatic skull.

Answers to frequently asked questions

No, I did not kill this otter.

No, I do not endorse the killing of otters.

No, I did not find it myself. It was found by a friend whose identity I will not disclose just in case I am mistaken about the legality of collecting roadkilled otters in the UK.

Yes, I respect the dignity of wild animals.

No, I don’t consider it more dignified for a carcass to rot by the side of a road than to be used for scientific purposes.

Yes, I am completely cool with my own body being used for science after I die.


5 Responses to “Christmas came late — in the form of a dead otter”

  1. Adam Yates Says:

    I don’t know about the UK, but in Oz, even roadkill of protected species is off limits to collecting without a permit. I guess its a matter of not allowing wildlife products into the general community whose origin can’t be verified.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, that’s the kind of law I had in mind. But I spent a few minutes poking around and couldn’t find any indication that we have that in the UK.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    It’s the same in the U.S. too. You don’t even want to be caught with shed feathers from a songbird or bird of prey you picked up off the ground. Though I think in our case little difference is made between near threatened and least concern. Non-game birds (i.e., everything other than waterfowl and turkeys/oheasants) are under special protection.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Looking it up, the U.K. Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 make it illegal to possess any live or dead animal listed on Schedule 5, or derivative without a permit. Otters (Lutra lutra) are on Schedule 5.

    It should be possible to get a permit. I’ve seen people do it before if they are researchers and/or the animal was killed by natural causes, so long as it was reported. That said I am not sure how the U.K. handles it.

  5. John Scanlon Says:

    Re Adam’s comment: in Australia this varies by state. In W.A., e.g., Regulation 52 & 53 of the BC Act (which came into effect last year) allows possession of dead fauna (if it died naturally, or lawfully or accidentally killed) and discarded parts for non-commercial purposes.

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