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    Fears grow for otter's sanity
By John Vincent

Thursday, September 14, 2000

SCIENTISTS are worried for the sanity of Britain's increasing otter population after finding disturbing evidence of cannibalism and infanticide, according to a study published yesterday.

Post-mortem examinations on 200 otters since December 1998 showed that 33 of them - almost 17 per cent - had bite wounds inflicted by other otters. These were the result not just of fights between rival territorial males, but also involved cannibalism and even suspected infanticide, according to the report published in British Wildlife.

Vic Simpson, a veterinary pathologist, and Karen Coxon, a fellow scientist, found that many of the otters had wounds on face, feet, anus and genitals. Eight of the animals had died directly as a result of the bites. The stomach of one dog otter contained the remains of a four-week old cub.

Mr Simpson said yesterday: "We do not know whether these injuries are symptomatic of new and worrying behaviour or just that our population levels have recovered enough for them to become apparent again. But there is no reported evidence of this sort of behaviour happening elsewhere, such as Germany, where the species is also doing well.

"What is new is that there is now clear evidence that aggressive behaviour does not just involve males fighting for territories - females are being badly bitten and dying too. It even applies to cubs."

One theory is that a Vitamin A deficiency, caused by ingesting pollutants, has caused increased aggression. Mr Simpson, however, was sceptical and suggested that the aggressive behaviour could be linked to the gradual recovery of the otter population in Britain prompting fierce competition for territory.

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