The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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        Tony Everhardt, of Lake Township, couldn’t believe what he was seeing running across his front yard on Sunday, April 15.

        Everhardt, a ham radio operator, said he just happened to glance at some movement on a security monitor in his home on Emch Road and saw what he initially thought was a cat. But upon closer examination, he realized it was river otter.

        “I was talking on my radio. I looked at the monitor and saw it running,” said Everhardt. “My first thought was that it was probably a cat because we have some cats running around here. Then I looked a little closer, and thought, `Wow. That’s no cat.’ You could tell by the pointed tail.”

        Surveillance footage shows the otter sprinting across Everhardt’s front yard near some shrubbery before fading out of view. Everhardt said he went to look for it and saw the otter cross the street before it headed three houses down.

        “Then I lost it,” he said. “I ran upstairs to get my keys and took off in my car to try and get a better look at it. But I couldn’t see it after that. So I came back home and looked on my security footage. I knew in my head it was an otter, but then I thought, `There’s no otters around here.’ I’ve hunted for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen one of those around here. Usually they are around rivers and creeks. But I’m nowhere near that. So I think it’s kind of rare in this area.”

        Everhardt said he decided to take his laptop containing the footage to the Maumee River hoping to find a game warden to get confirmation that the image was a river otter.

        “There’s a lot of fishing going on in the Maumee River right now, so I thought I’d hunt down a game warden. I found one at Ft. Meigs.         I approached him and asked, `Can I bother you for a minute?’ I asked him about river otters. He said they’re around, but they’re kind of rare. So I asked him if he could identify the image caught by my security camera. He said, `It sure looks like a river otter to me.’ He didn’t say too much. They’re usually not around here. He’s had reports of them near Turkey Creek further on down the river, and maybe some marshes along the lake. I talked to a buddy of mine who lives in Elmore near the Portage River, and he said he saw them while canoeing.”

        Everhardt said he is puzzled by its appearance in his yard, since he’s “nowhere near water.”

        He said there is a ditch off Tracy Road, about a quarter mile from his home, a small ditch along Ayers Road about 250 yards north of his property, and a pond about 400 yards to the south.

       

Once extinct

        Sara Zaleski, a wildlife research technician with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, told The Press that river otters are native to Ohio. But polluted streams and loss of wetlands caused their extinction in the early 1900s.

        “We wiped out many species of wildlife because we destroyed the habitats they lived in. We cut down the forests and plowed up the land,” she said.

        In 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began a seven year project to reintroduce the species to the state. Over this period, 123 otters were captured in Arkansas and Louisiana using modern foothold traps and were released in four Ohio watersheds: the Grand River, Killbuck Creek, Little Muskingum River, and Stillwater Creek. Since then, river otters have been sighted in nearly two-thirds of Ohio’s counties. Young otters or family groups have been seen throughout Eastern Ohio.

        In 2001, the Ohio Division of Wildlife announced that a river otter was caught in a raccoon trap along the Auglaize River in Putman County. Wildlife officials said at the time that it had been the first sighting of a river otter in northwest Ohio in nearly 100 years.

       “In 2002, river otters were removed from Ohio’s endangered species list due to the state’s successful reintroduction program,” said Eric Heis, public information officer with the ODNR.               

Active

        “River Otters are very active creatures. Often, they seem very playful, running around the riverbanks, along streams and marshes,” said Zaleski. “They have a very long body and long tail. They are usually dark brown with a whitish chest and chin. They are several feet long. They are not small.”

        Zaleski said even though Everhardt does not live close to a major body of water, there is still considerable habitat for river otters that’s not too far away. She surmised it may have been looking for food in some of the nearby ditches.

        “It’s possible it may have traveled back and forth in the ditch, particularly if there is fish there. Fish and crayfish are usually what they’re looking for.”

        Heis agreed.

        “They’ll ride that water to find food. That’s their main drive, to go up and down those ditches and creeks,” he said.

        Heis said he was familiar with the area where Everhardt lives.

        “Not only is it close to the Maumee River, but there are many streams and ponds-small lakes around. I also know there is a culvert that goes under I-75 by Buck Road. As you can see in [Everhardt’s]video, otters can move at a good pace. With the rain we’ve been having, their hunting territory has expanded. Those ditches along Tracy Road were full of water, creating man made creeks,” said Heis.

        It also could have been pulled further inland due to the nor’easter that hit the area over the weekend, he said. The rain, wind and heavy waves from Lake Erie flooded some ditches and banks, with considerable debris, like large trees, on April 14 and 15.

        “It could have just been looking at whatever was coming out from those floods,” he said.

        Zaleski said the ODNR conducts annual bridge surveys over waterways, and sometimes spots them.

        “We’ve actually found quite a few of them,” she said.

        “There’s also a website where the public can report species sightings to the ODNR,” she added. “We get, on a fairly regular basis, an otter or two reported monthly.”

        River otters do not have any natural predators, she said.

        “They’re kind of higher in the food chain. Something would have to be pretty big to go after them. They don’t have many natural predators in this area,” she said.

        Heis said trapping river otters is illegal in 45 counties in northwest, southwest, and a portion of northeast Ohio in the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) area. It is illegal in Lucas, Ottawa, Wood and Sandusky counties in The Press circulation area. Limited trapping is permitted in some areas in central and southern Ohio.

        Despite the increase in river otter sightings across the state, Everhardt considers his brush with the whiskered creature a rare occurrence.

        “I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1975, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said.

        “It is exciting,” said Heis, “to see wildlife we are not used to, especially as river otter populations grow in Ohio. Bald Eagles have had a similar comeback, with sightings all around Columbus the past few years.

        Everhardt’s surveillance footage of the river otter can be seen on The Press’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pressnewspapers/

       

 

 

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