Otters in the Philippines (Asian short-clawed otters)

I adore sea otters and have posted several articles / photos / videos about California sea otters on my blog.  Until recently — and although I grew up in the Philippines — I did not know there were otters in the Philippines, too.

California Sea Otter - Photo by my grandson (then 8 years old) Jun-Jun

California Sea Otter – Photo by my grandson (then 8 years old) Jun-Jun

It turns out that sea otters are found not only along the coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean in North America but also in parts of Asia.

Philippine Map Source US State Department

Map Source: US Department of State

In the Philippines, otters live in the Palawan area, on the western part of the archipelago.

There is not much information about Philippine otters posted on-line, not even within the comprehensive National Geographic website.

And I could not find information on exactly how many otters are left in the wild in Palawan or anything else about their current status.

So far, here is what I did find:

From Arkive.org:

The Asian short-clawed otter has a large distribution, ranging from north-western and south-western India, through southern China (including Hainan) and the Malay Peninsula, to Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Riau Archipelago (Indonesia), and Palawan Island in the Philippines.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) list Asian sea otters in the “Threatened” category.  

Specifically, Asian sea otters are listed as “Vulnerable” under the IUCN Red list.

As with other wildlife vulnerable to or facing extinction in the Philippines, the threats to  otters include deforestation, pollution, humans destroying the otters and their natural habitats (e.g., turning mangroves into aquaculture farms).

Compared to the sea otters we see here on the central California coast, the Philippine otter is much smaller. This video from Diana J. Limjoco’s blog shows 3 young Philippine otters brought to her Palawan home by locals.

The otters on this video — like most otters — are truly adorable.  I am curious about how they are doing, especially health-wise living among the other domesticated pets in the household.

I am also curious if there is a program in the Philippines established to care for orphaned otters so they can be re-introduced back into the wild (as the topic of the film Saving Otter 501 — shown on the PBS show Nature).

In neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore, otters are totally protected by the government.  In the Philippines, Republic Act # 9147 (2001) prohibits the killing, collection, possession, and maltreatment of wildlife.

But if locals do not know about the R.A. 9147 law or how special and rare these creatures are, and if there is no funding to enforce the law or do public service announcements (PSAs), then the law is useless in terms of saving remaining Philippine otters.

There was a blog started by Philippine otter researchers called “Palawan Otters” (Lyca Sandrea G. Castro) but it may be abandoned as there were only a few post, and not any new information since last year.  I hope they are continuing their research and will post new information on the blog soon.  (NOTE – as of September, 2014, Ms. Castro has revived the blog — YAY!!! I have added the “protecting otters” poster from the Palawan Otters blog at the bottom of this post.)

Here is another video of Asian small-clawed otters at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand playing with a pebble, via Wikipedia commons.

When I think of poverty issues facing many Filipinos it seems that my interest and focus on endangered animals are inconsequential.  What is the point of learning about these animals and writing a blog post if they are so close to the edge of extinction.  What difference is it going to make…

I suppose there is always hope, and I am again reminded of the 1968 quote from Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum:

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand.  We will understand only what we are taught.”

Sometimes, endangered wildlife are killed simply due to a lack of understanding of their role in our ecosystem, or by necessity, caught for food…it is as basic as that, and goes back to poverty issues.

The same problems that cause wildlife to become extinct — pollution from pesticides, loss of their habitat due to illegal activities that degrade the environment — are issues that also make people vulnerable to other disasters. So I don’t think we have a choice…we have to learn about endangered wildlife and how their loss affects our ecosystem, and spread the word.  It can only improve our prospect for saving our environment and perhaps make the difference for future inhabitants of our planet.

UPDATE:  As I was getting ready to publish this post, I googled “Philippine Wildlife Act 9147 sea otters” and found a comprehensive paper written by Jeric Bocol Gonzalez titled Distribution Exploitation and Trade Dynamics of A.cinereus in Mainland Palawan, Philippines.  Published in 2010, the situation did not look promising for rare Philippine sea otters back then!  Does anyone have any new information since publication of Jeric’s thesis?

Otter Protection Photo from Palawan Otter Blog

Click on the photo to link to Palawan Otters blog

Other (Sea) Otter posts on LolaKo.com:

And for more about California sea otters, see The Otter Project. and the Monterey Bay Aquarium website page Sea Otters as Risk.

Related endangered wildlife posts:

LAST NOTE:  If you want more information about otters in other parts of the world, visit the IUCN’s Otter Specialist Group website (where I found Jeric Gonzalez’s paper).

8 thoughts on “Otters in the Philippines (Asian short-clawed otters)

  1. They’re such a charismatic species, and in trouble in many areas. The Wetlands Centre in London has a small family group of the Asian short-claws and I was interested to see how they differ from the Cape clawless otters which we get here in South Africa. Much smaller, but also their social habits within in female dominance groupings. It’s heartening to see conservation efforts to help this endangered species and hope they make a come back.

    • Many otter species are indeed in trouble, sadly, including the ones that live here in California.

      Oh wow, there are otters there too in your region 🙂 . Do you have photos or have posted for your blog? I would like to see that. I agree, they are so charismatic.

      We are lucky to live here in the Monterey Bay, where one can see them at harbors, or at the estuarine reserve here. They are so enjoyable to watch (and they are among the “stars” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, of course).

      I haven’t heard anything new about the Philippine Otter, the last blog news I read about the area was the disturbing development about pollution, in the Coron area of Palawan. I just hope there is enough of them left in the wild and that they are able to make a comeback.

  2. Hi, You made mention of the otters in my care…I am writing to let you know that the otters are in good health. The domestic animals that are on my farm, are all vaccinated with everything available. The otters were given an exam at PWRCC by their vet and their blood work showed no sign of diseases and no parasites. I feed them what their diet in the wild consists of. A man brings them fresh small live crabs everyday, as well as molluscs and fish. They are not given any human cooked foods etc.

    Just to allay your fears for them.

  3. Hi..
    thank you for caring about this wonderful and adorable cute animals located here in Phils..

    Niño from Rizal

    • You are welcome, Nino. I love otters and happy to research and provide information about them.

      Hopefully, residents of Palawan will be able to address environmental conservation issues there and how we can prevent these adorable creatures from disappearing in the Philippines and the ecosystem of the area.

      — Lola Jane

  4. Thank you this and the link, Christian.

    Readers of this blog post, please click on Christian’s link to Change.org and let us help to protect habitat. Here is a part of the petition language:

    Please revoke the permits given to the joint venture of Seven Seas Properties and Hotel Centro to build an Ocean Park in Turtle and Binunsalian Bays-Palawan.

    As a result of these approvals an established marine sanctuary [which has existed for many years] has been rezoned by the City of Puerto Princesa to accommodate the proposed Ocean Park. We request that the protected marine sanctuary status be restored to both bays.

    Palawan is regarded as the last natural frontier of the Philippines due to its vast and unspoiled flora and fauna. To quote the City’s own words in a recent resolution against a coal fired plant, “Palawan is known as the Last Frontier being one of the top megadiversity hotspots of the world in a fragile environment.” This project may also destroy the delicate ecosystem in these bays. Seven Seas Properties were recently cited for building on Boracay’s last pristine beach without an Environmental Clearance Certificate. It is hard to trust such a developer to respect ecosystems in these bays or elsewhere…. See more and sign the petition here

Now that you are here, I would love to know what you think...comments are always appreciated.