Our thanks to the International Otter Survival Fund for contributing the advice below.
It is important when you first come across an otter that you believe to be in distress or injured that you do not immediately approach it. For otter cubs, you need to consider a number of factors before you intervene. However, if an otter cub is in obvious danger it should be removed e.g. by the side of a road.
When to rescue #
If an otter is caught by a pet
The otter will be need to be assessed for injuries
If an otter is hit by a car
The otter will be need to be assessed for concussion, shock or other injuries
An otter with an obvious injury
Any animal with an obvious injury will need assistance
An otter in a snare
If you encounter an otter in a snare be very cautious. You will need professional assistance to release the otter and it will then need to be treated for any injuries. Take a full record of the date, time and place as this will need to be notified to the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer. If possible take a photo.
A mother of cubs has been killed
Call for assistance immediately.
When to take other action #
Otters approaching people/houses
If an adult otter appears in an area of human habitation, observe the animal until it settles in a safe area. Juveniles will sometimes appear in odd places, e.g. a garage. In both cases you need to call relevant authorities/organisations but do not touch the animal. Leave a bowl of water near to the animal and try to make sure it cannot escape.
When to leave alone #
An otter cub on its own
Mother otters often leave cubs to go fishing for food or she may be moving them from the natal holt. So just because a cub is on its own doesn’t necessarily mean it needs help. If you see a cub, do not intervene unless it is in immediate danger. Instead observe for a period of time – it is important not to approach cubs as human scent will detract the mother from returning to her young. Before intervening contact relevant authorities/organisations for advice.
Next Steps #
Never attempt to pick up an otter, especially an adult. Adult otters can be extremely aggressive and cause serious harm to an individual. If an adult otter appears to be injured, approach to a safe distance before assessing any injuries. An otter which appears unconscious can suddenly come to, so be very careful. If the otter attempts to move away with serious injuries observe where it goes.
For otter cubs, interaction should be determined by other factors but if it is in obvious danger it should be removed carefully from potential harm e.g. by the side of a road. Approach cubs with care as even when small they can bite.
For both cubs and adults, we would advise contacting otter rescue centres before approaching the animal unless absolutely necessary.
You can call the International Otter Survival Fund (01471 822 487) for help and advice at any time. IOSF can also direct you to other centres around the country who can help.