Thursday 28 August 2008, 12:52
You can understand why they may be topping popularity polls, as not only do they look good with that sleek waterproof coat and slinky tail, but any animal that loves to play as much as they do and can lie on their backs whilst having a spot to eat, gets my vote.
In the scheme of things how is old rabbit going to compete with the skills and thrills of Lutra lutra? (Yep, even their Latin name sounds cool!)
The publication of the chart in this month's BBC Wildlife magazine was quite apt really as only last week I had a message that some otters were being reintroduced to the wild after a period of rehabilitation.
I soon learnt that these had been wild otters, one of them ending up in care after a run-in with a dog. Furthermore these same individuals featured in one of BBC Wales wildlife expert Iolo Williams's programmes as cubs.
So after a few phone calls I met up with local volunteer Laura Jones at a secret location in Mid Wales. It seems that otters are indeed sprinkled with a bit of star quality - complete with celeb liaisons, secret locations and even a stretch in rehab!
I've tried to see and record otters a few times but have only seen them from afar or ended up with my nose next to some otter spraints (droppings). The good news is that after many years of persecution and decline they are coming back and one even turned up in Cardiff Bay recently. Indeed, a local wildlife professional told me that he reckons every river in Wales now has otters.
Laura has spent many years looking after otters and rehabilitating them back into the wild. This involves a period of time in care with minimal human contact before being moved to a temporary enclosure near some suitable habitat. Here they're slowly acclimatised and gently reintroduced, ultimately to a point when they are allowed to roam out of the enclosure and fend for themselves back in the wild.
Any chance of seeing the otters, even in the temporary enclosure, is extremely minimal, as they rightly avoid humans and stay in their holt until dusk when they then come out to feed. It was a pleasure, however, to speak to Laura about otters and learn and see for myself how with the help and tireless effort of her and the other volunteers they can be reintroduced.
So, stood near to the electric fence of the enclosure chatting to Laura (probably about how much water was in my wellies) I jumped when she suddenly gestured "look" and blinkin' 'eck (or something similar). There was an otter right in front of me!
Now Laura had been visiting the site for at least a week and hadn't seen them so this was extremely lucky. This was special and for the next five minutes or so the otter went about its business without a care in the world. Finally I was able to see one with my own eyes.
Fishermen have often told me that sometimes they come right up to you if you are still enough, but none until now had given me the time of day.
It was fascinating to see them being inquisitive, playful and with that unmistakeable body built for swimming. I think having seen one of the newly crowned celebs of the mammal world up close and personal, it would be rude not to give them the nod as my favourite too.
Lastly, many thanks to Laura and she'll update us on how the two otters get on.
Do you agree with the list and the otter as Britain's favourite mammal?
Answers on a postcard - or probably easier to post a comment below! Who's going to fight the corner of the short tailed vole then?
The BBC Wildlife magazine's top 10:
A few links:
View BBC Wales' top otter clips.
Check out the cutest baby otter clip ever.
Why otters are great on the Guardian website.
Otters on BBC Wild About Nature - for kids.
The list of British mammals at www.wildaboutbritain.com, also has a vibrant forum.
Sea Trust/Stena Dolphin-othon - a marathon dolphin survey from Saturday 30 August to Friday 5 September
Beardyman And The Mimics - BBC Radio 4, 10.30am, Saturday 30 August. A spot of self-publicity here, but check out this programme I was involved in making with two amazing mimics, the lyrebird and 'Beardyman', Britain's foremost beatboxer.
Join the discussion...