Japan was found to be the top destination for otters recovered in Southeast Asia between 2015 and 2017 after capture for intended smuggling, according to a recent survey by a wildlife monitoring group, with experts pointing to their growing popularity as pets in the nation as one factor behind the trend.
Of the 59 otters recovered during the three-year period, 32 — all found in Thailand — were set to be sent to Japan, the international organization Traffic said.
The cross-border trade of all four otter species found in Southeast Asia is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as the Washington Convention.
Their growing popularity in Japan as pets could be one of the reasons behind the poaching and illegal trade of the animal, Traffic said.
Japan is known for its quirky animal cafes, and those featuring otters are gaining popularity. There are also an increasing number of social media accounts run by people who own the semiaquatic, mostly carnivorous mammals.
Smuggling cases have also been seen in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, with many of them involving young small-clawed otters — a threatened species listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
The survey found that at least 734 otters were put on sale between January and April this year, with substantial numbers offered by Indonesian and Thai dealers online.
Tomomi Kitade, a representative from the Japanese branch of Traffic, called for tighter domestic controls. At present, otters can be freely traded within the country once they have been smuggled in.
“The introduction of legally binding systems to have dealers disclose transaction history, and a limit on the number of authorized dealers is needed,” Kitade said.
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