They're cute, furry, playful, and now, after a prolonged hiatus, they're on the rebound in Texas!
That's right y'all, North American river otters are reportedly reclaiming their former territory in the Lone Star State.
Diana Foss, an urban biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), confirmed to Texas Monthly that otters have been returning to the state's waterways over the past decade. They've even been spotted frolicking in Houston's Buffalo Bayou.
"In the next ten or 20 years, I'm anticipating that more people will see river otters in the wild or in their backyards, depending on where they live," Foss told the publication.
Otters, which are currently most common throughout the Southeast, once occupied every part of Texas. Sadly, hunting and trapping nearly wiped Texas' population out during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Recent limits on otter hunting, however, have allowed them to rebuild their numbers. Today, TPWD believes otters and their pups inhabit "every river system in East Texas," according to Foss.
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Scientists believe that hunting restrictions only tell one part of the story. River otters also serve as a bellwether for the health of a river system. Basically, healthy rivers beget healthy river otters. Otters feed on things like fish and crawfish, which are very sensitive to pollutants.
Foss told Texas Monthly that the return of the river otters signals an improvement in water quality. And, as our hard work to improve their habitats continue, otters will continue to expand their territory.
Welcome back, cuties!