The Israeli native Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) population underwent a dramatic decline since the 1960s due to illegal hunting, water pollution, depletion of water sources and the disappearance of wetland habitats. Recently the regional status of our otters has been categorized as "Critically Endangered". With less than 100 individuals estimated to be remaining in the wild, dramatic measures must be taken if otters are to be saved from extinction in Israel.
A comparison of the 2012 population survey with that undertaken in 2009 indicates the decline of Israel's otter population in the Beit She'an Valley and the disappearance of the species in most other freshwater habitats in Israel. Comprehensive research is needed to evaluate the colonization-extinction processes of the local otter population, and their probability of survival in different areas, as well as an evaluation of suitable habitats for re-introductions in the future.
We have adopted the otter as a flagship species to raise awareness of the preservation of Israel's wetlands. Working together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, we have established a breeding enclosure with a view to reintroducing the offspring into the wild. Genetic studies on four sub-populations within Israel (Galilee, Golan, Hula Valley, Harod) show that the Israeli population differs from European populations and so individuals from the wild in Israel must be captured for breeding.
River otters play an important role in the aquatic ecosystem because, through predation, they help control the populations of other species. They are also a key indicator of the health of the ecosystem - if the otter population is declining it means the ecosystem is not healthy. A flourishing river otter population will positively impact the overall health of Israel's aquatic habitats.