Though they are indigenous to the area, it’s somewhat rare to see a river otter in this part of the state.
“River otters were native to the area, to Illinois throughout the state,” said Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Ecologist Dan Thompson. “But they declined and I suspect a lot of it had to do with most of the aquatic mammals – mink, beaver, and otters – have really lush pelts so they were overharvested many years ago.”
But one furry friend made spotting it quite easy, by swimming up to boaters in the paddleboat quarry Downtown Naperville.
Naperville resident Teresa Rogers captured and posted a short video showing the encounter.
Though it only shows a brief glimpse of the creature’s head and tail, Thompson said he’s pretty certain it’s an otter. The behavior of the animal also matches up.
“I think they’re kind of having fun, having a little approach. They’re curious animals and very playful,” he said.
A Good Sign for the Species
Thompson said it’s a good sign for the rejuvenation of the species. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources estimates less than 100 river otters lived in the state in 1989. In the early 1990s, IDNR began reintroducing otters from Louisiana to rivers in central and southern parts of the state, which has been “wildly successful.”
“I think it’s a good indicator,” said Thompson. “Each sighting we see confirms that their numbers seem to be building and their numbers are starting to take hold.”
But Thompson added that ecosystems are all about balance and, while the return of otters is great for the species, food sources for otters are also in danger.
River otters are known to eat river mussels, which are water-filtering species – the quality of water in the river could decline if mussel populations decrease. And the state’s Blanding’s turtle conservation plan has been years in the making.
“The only apprehension I have is the few species that are prey items for the river otters are still in a bit of a precarious position,” said Thompson. “So adding an additional threat and pressure on them may be a little bit much at this point. But hopefully with our continued efforts we can get these populations of mussels and turtles and other species back to a level where they can sustain some of this loss and we’ll be back in harmony and have environmental balance.”
Thompson added that otters are very curious creatures and might approach you if you see them in the wild. But please don’t feed them or disturb them.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.
[image credit: Illinois Department of Natural Resources]
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