Otter Smuggling Fuelled by Craze for Cute Animals

TORONTOMay 29th, 2019 /CNW/ – They may look sweet and cuddly, but there’s a dramatic and troubling surge in having otters as exotic pets across Southeast Asia. This latest craze is being driven by social media influencers and interactive otter cafes in Japan, which is driving the cruel demand to keep otters as pets.

An undercover investigation by World Animal Protection revealed the illegal hunting, trafficking, and increased attempts to captive breed otters across JapanThailand and Indonesia to satisfy a growing international demand for the animal. The investigation also raises the following concerns:

  • Otter cubs are snatched from their parents in the wild. Their parents, who are fiercely protective are shot, electrocuted or their nests are smoked out, so poachers can take their cubs.
  • Three out of four otters found in Southeast Asia, including the Asian small-clawed otter, are considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
  • An organised network of farmers, hunters, collectors, dealers and exporters source otter cubs from the wild and export them through their networks.
  • Evidence of laundering through captive breeding facilities, in at least one location. Further sources have indicated similar efforts elsewhere.
  • Reported incidents of suggested involvement of law enforcement and government officials in facilitating the cruel trade. One report from Indonesia stated that a government worker requested operations on otters to remove the gland that causes them to smell, to make them more appealing as pets.

In Japan, where more than a dozen animal cafes feature otters, it was found that the welfare of the animal is severely compromised for the entertainment of customers. The otters are heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers interact with them.

Some are kept in solitary conditions with no natural light, others are seen biting their claws and exhibiting traumatized behavior – some of the worst housing conditions included small cages with no access to water.

With long, sleek, streamlined bodies and webbed feet, otters are born swimmers. They are found in waterways and are often seen floating on their backs, patting stones into the air, catching them and rolling them skillfully around their chests and necks. Otters are also charismatic, highly social and live in large family groups of up to 20 individuals. A far cry from their captive existence as pets.

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife not Pets says:

“Just because a wild animal is cute, it does not mean you should take it home with you. Unfortunately, this fact appears to be lost on many people as they are influenced by social media, and influencers showing them off as fun and cool pets.

She adds that once otters are in people’s homes, there is no realistic way to replicate the space and freedom these animals would have in the wild. Many animals are kept in spaces vastly smaller than their natural habitats and they don’t have the correct nutrition, even if owners have their best intentions to feed them properly.

Evidence from the charity also suggests complicity on behalf of law enforcement and government agencies in facilitating the trade. With otters being assessed as “risk of extinction in the wild,” urgent attention is needed to address illegal trade concerns and fraudulent captive breeding operations in Southeast Asia.

World Animal Protection is also urging people to not buy, own or breed a wild animal as a pet. A life in captivity is a world away from a life in the wild. Wild animals are not pets, they belong in the wild. Join the movement to help end the cruel exotic pet trade.

About World Animal Protection

  • World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals) has moved the world to protect animals for the last 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. Its activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care, working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed. More information on World Animal Protection can be found at

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SOURCE World Animal Protection

Otter cafes are becoming very common in Japan, where visitors can interact with pet otters for a fee. However, these environments are not suitable for otters. Tiny shallow pools, small enclosures and unnatural interaction with customers all day affects their physical and mental wellbeing. Pictured: An otter in captivity at a cafe in Tokyo, Japan Credit Line: World Animal Protection / Aaron Gekoski Date: 14/03/2019 (CNW Group/World Animal Protection)