Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Otters and more otters ~

Bee the otter by Sophie Neville

One of the most notable things about our otters is that their sense of touch is of primary importance. It may be that they are adapted to feeling whilst looking around for signs of danger but I am always struck by the fact that they will feel without looking. On the whole primates, including human beings, look at what they are touching. But otters are otters and have a different way of life. This is a line drawing I executed of our Asian short-clawed otter Bee.  I knew her for over twelve years. She was a beautiful creature who brought joy to many.

Jims the otter by Sophie Neville

This line drawing of Jims, Bee's companion, was drawn from a photograph taken whilst he was swimming under water, his back legs tucked underneath him. I'm not too keen on drawing from photographs but needs must. He was very much a boy with an ever inquisitive personality and in this instance was in his element.

The BBC Natural History Unit made a wonderful drama documentary with our otters, entitled 'The Day in the Life of the Otter' which was repeated many times.  Hannah Gordon starred in the feature taking Bee's voice, Denis Lawson played Jims. The aim of the piece was to try and express animals' motivation and thought patterns without becoming anthropomorphic. However when Spike Milligan arrived to play the voice of our dog Jake these good intentions dissolved and laughter took over. My mother was given the small part of a furious hen, one of our ex-battery hens, who in the drama had her eggs stolen by the two otters. They were rather fond of cracking open and eating any eggs they could find. In real life this involved raiding our kitchen. They were cautious and a bit frightened of the hens, natural behaviour which is quite funny to watch with or without Spike Milligan. I have written about this and other stories in Funnily Enough.

The highlight of the film is a sequence in which the male and female otters meet in the water. This was beautifully shot, in slow motion. I could only draw their companionship, capturing the fact they even when together they hunt for food by touch whilst keeping an eye out for danger of any kind. One would not imagine that they have many preditors in Britian. It was only when I was keeping an eye on a pair of very young otters that we were hand-rearing that I realised they really were cautious about birds - not hens but birds of prey. No doubt eagles and owls, buzzards and kites will be a threat to young otters. This must be why they look up whilst turning stones under water.

Bee and Jims the tame short-clawed Asian otters by Sophie Neville

Our otters are rather frightened of deep water - where in the wild preditors do lurk. European otters will not swim under a road bridge. They like to get out and walk along the bank. If they can't do this they will cross the road, which has lead to numerous casualties, usually young male otters looking for new territory. We have been supporting projects to build ledges under road bridges for otters to use, so that needless fatalities can be avoided.

All sketches on the blog are featured in 'Ride the Wings of Morning' and are (c) Sophie Neville. Please contact me if you need to use them on

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