A Near-Extinct Otter Seen in Borneo

July 27, 2010
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A species of otter that has not been seen in Malaysia for more than 100 years, was recently seen in a photograph snapped on Borneo and has raised hopes that there's still time to save the creature. The photograph was taken in Malaysia's Sabah state in the second half of 2008, but international scientists needed nearly two years to study it before confirming it was indeed the hairy-nosed otter.

The image of the hairy-nosed otter — sometimes called Asia's rarest — was captured by a remote camera planted by scientists in a forest reserve and could bolster conservationists' efforts to seek stronger government protection for threatened species in Borneo's biologically diverse jungles.

The otter derives its name from hairs at the end of its nose. It has mainly brown fur, a flat tail and a whitish chin. Its population has declined mainly because of hunting for its fur and meat as well as the loss of its wetland habitats to human development.

Indigenous to Southeast Asia, the otter was once believed to be extinct in Malaysia and severely threatened elsewhere. Sightings in Vietnam and Cambodia several years ago have raised hopes for its survival.

Sabah state is home to endangered animals including the pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino and orangutan. Wildlife activists say their numbers have dwindled in recent decades because of illegal poaching and the loss of jungles cut down for timber and development.