Its distribution has been greatly reduced and is now discontinuous. Decades of poaching for its velvety pelt, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s, considerably diminished population numbers. The species was listed as endangered in 1999 and wild population estimates are typically below 5,000. The Guianas are one of the last real strongholds for the species, which also enjoys modest numbers — and significant protection — in the Peruvian Amazonian basin. It is one of the most endangered mammal species in the neotropics. Habitat degradation and loss is the greatest current threat. The giant otter is also rare in captivity; in 2003, only 60 animals were being held.
The giant otter shows a variety of adaptations suitable to an amphibious lifestyle, including exceptionally dense fur, a wing-like tail, and webbed feet. The species prefers freshwater rivers and streams, which are usually seasonally flooded, and may also take to freshwater lakes and springs. It constructs extensive campsites close to feeding areas, clearing large amounts of vegetation. The giant otter subsists almost exclusively on a diet of fish, particularly characins and catfish, but may also eat crabs, turtles, snakes and small caiman. It has no serious natural predators other than humans, although it must compete with other species, including the neotropical otter and caiman species, for food resources.
They are very social which is why you will find them in very large groups. It is also known as the noisiest of all species due to the constant communications that go on among them. It is very fascinating though to listen to all of the activity going on.
You will find that they are very active during the day. Then they retreat to their dens on land as the sun goes down. These Otters prefer to live in groups that can have up to 20 members in them. They have a complex hierarchy that takes place within these groups. For example the females with pups take precedence over all the rest. They are very protective of the members in their groups too. Usually it is the males that take care for defending them but instances of females doing the battles have been recorded as well.
The reproduction of the Giant Otter leaves a great deal to be figured out. Experts can only assume what really goes on in the wild. They have observed such efforts in captivity but feel that there will also be some differences based upon the location. As long as there is plenty for the Otters to survive on they will take part in mating all year long.
The males are the ones that will initiate the process though. About 70 days after conception the pup will be born. A female may be ready to mate again in a couple of months but it can be up to 2 years before she does. They are good caregivers, but research shows that stress can cause them not to create enough milk or to abandon their pup. This is both in captivity and in the wild. The average lifespan for a Giant Otter is 8 years in the wild and 17 in captivity.
The future for the Giant Otter has been looking grim for many decades. However, with conservation efforts in place there may still be some hope for them after all. There are less than 5,000 of them in the wild and approximately 60 of them in captivity. They do seem to adapt well to changes in their natural environment though which is a plus.
Right now it is categorized as being endangered. There continues to be plenty of research too about introducing them to new environments as a means of increasing their numbers. Poaching continues to be a huge problem which is the illegal hunting of these animals. Commercial fishermen are being asked to use nets that won’t trap or kill the Giant Otter. They are more expensive though than what the other nets cost so many of them still haven’t made the transition.