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01 April 2004 1409 BST
Graphic: A-Z of Nofolk Science, O: Otters
Picture: Chipz the otter
Chipz looks out for the young cubs
The otter is one of Britain’s most charismatic and best-loved mammals and can be found in most of Norfolk's rivers.

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Otters used to be common, but they disappeared from many parts of lowland Britain after 1950 and by 1980 were almost extinct in Norfolk.

This was due to the change in farming methods - which saw the introduction of pesticides and many rivers had become polluted.

But they became protected in 1978 and with the help of the Otter Trust's re-introduction programme, otters have returned to the Norfolk waters.

Fliss and Chipz

Two Asian short-clawed otter cubs were born in 2002 to proud parents Fliss and Chipz at the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary in North Norfolk.

Picture: baby otters
Baby otters

What really impressed staff was just how good a father former troublemaker Chipz was.

Since he was introduced to Fliss, Chipz had calmed down but staff were still worried how he would cope with the pitter patter of tiny paws.

But fortunately he turned out to be a devoted father. When the cubs were born Chipz watched from a distance, but after a few moments he ran over to them, picked them up and took them back inside!

The sanctuary hopes that the birth of the Asian short-clawed otters will help highlight the need for conservation for both British otters and the world's other endangered species.

Interesting facts about otters

The UK has a single species of otter, the European or Eurasian otter Lutra lutra. It is related to the stoat, weasel, badger and American mink.

Otters are one of our largest mammals measuring up to 120cm from nose to tail tip.

Otters have webbed feet with five toes (unlike dogs, cats and foxes which have four).

Otters need one kilogram of food every day, consisting of about 80% fish - they eat different foods at different seasons including small mammals, birds and crustaceans.

In water, otters hunt by sight and touch. Their sensitive whiskers pick up the vibrations of fish swimming nearby.

Otters are mainly solitary and nocturnal - they spend most of the daytime ‘lying-up’ in an underground holt or in thick cover above ground.

Otters mark their territories with droppings known as spraints - spraints have a very a distinctive odour similar to that of jasmine tea or newly-mown hay!

Recommended reading
By Sheila McKeown, a librarian at the Millennium Library in Norwich.

Sea Otters, by Patricia Kendell. Hodder Wayland 2003. ISBN 0750242272.

Otter, by Michael Leach. Hodder Wayland, 2003. ISBN 0750241683.

You can get hold of these books through your local library.

 

Read More: CBBC Newsround: Meet Snowdrop, the baby otter »

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