May-June 1960

Louisiana Otter by Ednard Waldo

If there’s one animal that’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, it’s the otter, who’s got it all over the dog, chimp, elephant and horse for intelligence and friendliness, if you’ll take the word of Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Schwartz who have been raising the little animals for several years in the backyard of their home, 761 Jefferson Heights, in New Orleans.

The otter craze of the Schwartz’s began when Charlie returned from West African with an African otter which he purchased from a native boy for one dollar and trained to do about every trick in the bag. However, after having won the hearts of the entire family, “Pouva”, as the otter was called, died of botulism.

So stricken was the family, with the loss of the little shovelnosed, lovable sleek brown-black pet that there was a pall over the household for days until Schwartz succeeded in replacing it with a pair of native Louisiana otters. It was then that Charlie decided to go the whole way and raise the otters scientifically.

A confirmed conservationist, Schwartz is deeply concerned about the survival of the otter in the wild because of its constant slaughter both willful and accidental. Schwartz told of a friend who came upon nine otters drowned in a fish trap. Other such incidents are frequent he says. Louisiana is believed to have more otters than any other section in the United States with an annual take of between two to four thousand pelts each season.

The otter population, which once numbered an estimated 600,000 over its broad range in our country, has dwindled to a fraction of that amount, and Schwartz believes curbs should be affected for its protection.

Of course, the value of the otter’s pelt is the main cause of its decline in population, however, there are other factors which mitigate against it ever becoming numerous in this country again. The otter, unlike most small mammals (it reaches the size of a large dachshund) has a very long period of gestation - about ten months - does not reproduce until it is two years old; many males do not reproduce and those that are successful are usually from five to seven years old.

If an otter is caught in a trap, its fellows will gather around to try and help, thus making them targets for the hunter. A dead otter invites investigation by others of its kind making them sitting ducks for the hunter.

The Louisiana otter is a mammal having a low elongated body; short legs; broad feet with five toes on each foot connected with webs; each toe having short, strong, curved, pointed claws. The head, which is practically the only part of the body visible when swimming, is broad and flat and rather small in relation to the size of the body. The broad muzzle is adorned with thick, prominent whiskers. The black eyes are small and the diminutive ears are rounded.


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