River otters are normally peaceful animals who spend their days gracefully swimming around looking for food. In what has come as shocking news to citizens of Anchorage, Alaska, however, a pack of river otters has attacked people and pets in separate incidents this month.
Consequently, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) is asking people to be careful near rivers, creeks, and lakes around the Anchorage area, the Anchorage Press reports. The department also asks people to report all river otter sightings in Anchorage.
River Otter Basics
The North American river otter, with a muscular body, short legs, and powerful tail, is a graceful swimmer, ADF&G explains. Although they usually swim at speeds of around 6 miles per hour, they can swim faster for short distances. Interestingly, they can run as fast as humans.
Adult river otters, which can weigh between 15 and 35 pounds, can be 40 to 60 inches long. Their diet typically includes marine and terrestrial invertebrates, frogs, various types of fish, and even small birds, mammals, and vegetables.
River Otter Attacks
Earlier this month, a 9-year-old boy and his friends were chased by four river otters near a pond in east Anchorage, the Anchorage Daily News reports. After being bitten several times, the boy was taken to the emergency room for a rabies shot.
“It could have been that the otters felt threatened, but it doesn’t appear to me these kids did anything wrong,” Dave Battle, an area wildlife biologist with the ADF&G, says in a Business Insider article.
This week, “a woman was bitten while rescuing her dog from a similar group of river otters at University Lake,” ADF&G wrote in a statement. Another dog was also bitten by a river otter at a different part of the same lake that day.
ADF&G explains that while it is uncommon for river otters to attack humans or pets, it does happen occasionally. What’s also perplexing is that it is not immediately clear if the recent attacks are by the same river otter pack.
The department explained that catching and relocating the river otters isn’t a viable strategy. Since the river otters are aggressive, moving them to another location simply moves the threat to a different area.
“Because of the risk to public safety, efforts will be made to locate this group of river otters and lethally remove them,” ADF&G wrote in the statement. “Care will be taken to only remove the animals exhibiting these unusual behaviors.”
If the animals are lethally removed, they will be tested for rabies, which may explain why the animals have been unusually aggressive, ADF&G explains. Then again, it must be pointed out that although it is possible for river otters to carry the disease, ADF&G notes that there haven’t been reports of rabies in river otters in southcentral Alaska in recent years.
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