The only known hairy-nosed otter in captivity died last week at a government-run wildlife refuge center in Takeo province after the rare animal fell sick, conservation officials said yesterday.
The male otter had been living at the Phnom Tamao Zoopark and Wildlife Rescue Center since 2007 when a fisherman killed its mother in the Tonle Sap lake and kept the animal as a pet before it was handed over to the wildlife center.
“The fact about hairy-nosed otters is they’re extremely hard to keep in captivity,” said Nick Marx of Wildlife Alliance, which assists the rescue center. “No one else has ever kept them alive for any length of time.”
The male otter, named Dara, meaning “precious” or “star,” had lung problems, vomited often and appeared to have stomach ulcers, according to Mr Marx, who said the endangered species is extremely sensitive to stress.
The Phnom Tamao refuge center briefly cared for two hairy-nosed otters when a female was pulled from a fishing line in the Tonle Sap and brought to the center in March.
Officials hoped to breed the pair, but it never happened.
“They were never paired up, although of course we would have wanted to,” Mr Marx said, explaining that the female otter died in quarantine after a few months of a “stomach infection brought on probably largely by stress.”
Asked if he hoped to see more otters at Phnom Tamao, he said: “I guess we hope we don’t get another one because that means another’s been hooked out of the wild.”
Taking its name from the small, soft whiskers on it nose, the hairy-nosed otter is known to inhabit scattered wetlands and coastal areas from Burma to Indonesia, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which estimates less than 1,000 currently live in the wild.
In Cambodia the otter is found in flooded forests and scrub forests around the Tonle Sap lake and in mangrove forests along the coast, according to Annette Olsson, a Phnom Penh-based research manager for Conservation International.
One of the main threats to the otter here is the destruction of its natural habitat for farming or wood.
“People are cutting down flooded forest,” Ms Olsson said. “The other threat to otters is hunting. People are hunting otters for their skin.”