Beware of the river otter?
Authorities in Anchorage, Alaska are urging residents to do just that after a series of incidents in which a group of river otters attacked humans and pets.
“Because of the risk to public safety, efforts will be made to locate this group of river otters and remove them,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said in its warning Friday. “Care will be taken to only remove the animals exhibiting these unusual behaviors.”
The first incident occurred Sept. 1, when a group of otters rushed and attacked nine-year-old Ayden Fernandez near a pond in East Anchorage, as the Anchorage Daily News reported at the time.
“Around 7 p.m. my oldest son called me, and I thought he was joking when he said, ‘Mom, Ayden got bit by an otter,'” his mother, Tiffany, told the Anchorage Daily News. “And I said, ‘What do you mean, an otter?'”
The brothers and two friends had stopped by the pond to watch and video a group of four otters when one of them moved towards the boys.
“That’s when they all started running. One caught up to my 9-year-old and he got attacked,” Fernandez told the Anchorage Daily News. “It’s pretty traumatizing for both my boys. One of them got attacked and the other one felt guilty that he couldn’t help his brother.”
The next round of attacks took place last week, ADF&G said. In one incident, a woman was bitten when rescuing her dog from aggressive otters at University Lake. The same day, another dog was attacked by an otter at a different part of the lake.
ADF&G said the same group of otters could be behind all of the incidents. Otters can travel large distances, and no otters have been seen by the first pond since the earlier attack.
There have also been infrequent reports of otter attacks on dogs in the last several years. In October 2019, for example, a group of four otters attacked a husky-mix at a different Anchorage lake, pulling it under the water, HuffPost reported. The owner had to enter the water and fight them off.
In response to the Sept. 1 attack, ADF&G wildlife biologist Dave Battle said all of the incidents with dogs he was aware of had also involved groups of four or five otters, and that it was possible the same group was behind all of the incidents in the past few years.
“We don’t know whether that’s always been the same group,” Battle told the Anchorage Daily News. “Logically, I would think that it probably is, because it’s such unusual behavior. It would be unlikely that multiple groups in the same city would suddenly start exhibiting the same type of behavior.”
Usually, groups of four otters consist of four bachelors or a mother with pups, but it is not possible to know the composition of the group or groups behind the attacks.
The animals, if and when they are found and removed, will be tested for rabies to see if this explains their aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, an animal has to be dead before it can be tested because the test requires brain tissue, according to HuffPost.
However, there have been no recent reports of rabid river otters in the region. A river otter tested positive for rabies in July in Dillingham, Alaska, but that is more than 300 miles away and only reachable by boat or plane, The Guardian reported.
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