Once declared extinct in Argentina one of the largest predators in South America is back and doing well. 10 days ago, a kayker along the Bermejo River in Impenetrable National Park, Argentina when he heard a splash. On further investigation it turned out to be a a brown-furred animal swimming through the water, occasionally dipping below the surface and then reappearing. It was a giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), a species believed to be extinct in Argentina. What a sighting and what a discovery!

The kayaker was Sebastian Di Martino who is director of conservation at Fundación Rewilding Argentina said “I was surprised and excited, at the beginning, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Over the last 500 years (since the first European colonization of South America), giant otters began to slowly disappear from Argentina, mainly due to hunting pressure. The last giant otters in the country were spotted in a river in the Misiones Province in the 1980s — but there have been no known sightings since.

At the moment, it’s not clear where this particular otter came from. The nearest known giant otter populations are in the Pantanal wetlands of Paraguay which is hundreds of miles away. Di Martino says it’s possible that the otter broke away from its family group and swam here. But it’s also possible that otters have remained in Argentina unbeknown to conservationists.

Giant Otter, Pantanal, Brazil

Impenetrable National Park was established in 2014 with the help of Rewilding Argentina and Tompkins Conservation as part of a grand effort to reinstate the region’s biodiversity. Working with governments and local communities, the two organizations have helped establish multiple national parks across Chile and Argentina, protecting nearly 6 million hectares (15 million acres) in the southern tip of South America.

There has already been some good success in the park as in 2020, a lone jaguar (Panthera onca) was also sighted in the park, and with the help of the Rewilding Argentina team, it was introduced to another jaguar and has since sired cubs. Argentina is finally getting back some of it’s most iconic historical wildlife and the Giant otter is a massive part of this ecologly.

The reintroduction of giant otters into Argentina’s Impenetrable National Park would be a boon for the local ecosystem, according to Di Martino: “As top predators, the giant river otter exerts a regulatory influence on plants and other animals which contributes to the health of aquatic ecosystems.”

The giant otter sighting happened, quite coincidentally, a few days before another significant event for otters in Argentina. A pair of captive otters, Coco and Alondra, which the Rewilding Argentina team plans to release into Argentina’s Iberá National Park, gave birth to three healthy pups. The pair had two previous litters that did not survive. Now the team plans to release all of them together once the pups have grown and they are ready.

“These three cubs represent a future where human communities and the natural world can thrive together,” Kristine Tompkins, president of Tompkins Conservation, said in a statement. “As we enter the UN Decade on Ecological Restoration, I strongly believe that our most urgent task is helping nature heal. Rewilding puts us on that path.”

Royle Safaris has some wildlife holidays to Argentina and we visit the Ibera wetlands and we cannot wait for the day when we see wild giant otters around the Ibera wetlands. You can find out more information about our wildlife watching holidays to Argentina here or by contacting us.

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