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Watch out for otters!

Maxi the otter cub, who is being cared for at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary after losing his mother, probably after she was hit by a car. Photo John Moncrieff

A CALL has gone out for drivers to be on the lookout for otters crossing the road after a seasonal spike in casualties.

Scottish Natural Heritage officer Karen Hall raised the alarm after finding a dead otter on the side of the road south of Cunningsburgh on her way to work last week.

She was echoed by a local wildlife sanctuary, which is now caring for an orphaned otter cub whose mother may have been a road victim.

SNH have had four dead otters handed in during October and 11 in the past three months.

The alert comes as the islands’ otter population continues to decline dramatically from its normal average of between 800 and 1,000 creatures.

SNH colleague Jonathan Swale said that population dips were not uncommon, but usually only lasted one or two years.

The dead otter Karen Hall from SNH found on the road south of Cunningsburgh last week. Photo Karen Hall

“We have been seeing a long term decline over what must be about 10 years now,” he said.

No island-wide assessment of otters has taken place for many years, but in the two monitored areas of Yell Sound and Lunna Ness there has been an 80 per cent decline, Swale said.

A shortage of inshore fish has been blamed for the decline, leaving otters to prey on less nutritious crab that make it harder for them to breed and raise a family.

The lack of fish could also be causing otters to travel further inshore to find food, in lochs for example, making them more vulnerable to bein killed on roads.

SNH have witnessed seasonal spikes in otter road deaths at the end of October and March when the clocks go back and the rush hour coincides with twilight.

Swale said: “It’s very difficult to see a brown animal in dim light so extra care needs to be taken.”

Hall added: “It’s so frustrating when you see animals knocked down. We may not be able to prevent it happening, but if we could lower the number slightly it would help.”

SNH have been sending otter corpses for analysis for the past 25 years and ask anyone who finds a dead otter to let them know on 01595 693345 or by emailing north@snh.gov.uk.

Meanwhile a two month old otter cub is doing well after being brought in to Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary last month.

Maxi, as he has been named, was found in a garden in Gott where he had been crying out for his mother for 48 hours.

Jan Bevington, who runs the sanctuary, said: “We don’t know for sure, but Maxi’s mum could well have been killed on the road at Gott.

“That’s what happened to the mother of Joey and Thea, the two otters we released in July after spending 11 months at the sanctuary. She was killed by a car in Vidlin.

“The drastic decline in the Shetland otter population makes it all the more important that people keep this in mind when they are driving, especially at dawn and dusk. They need to drive at a speed at which they can slam on to avoid killing an animal.

“This could also help reduce the number of hedgehogs that are getting killed on our roads. I have seen 11 dead ones on the road between Hillswick and Brae this week alone.”