Animal Welfare

Otter smuggling fueled by Japanese craze for cute animals

There is a dramatic and troubling surge in wild animals being kept as pets. Across Southeast Asia, the latest “otter craze” is being fueled by social media influencers and interactive otter cafes in Japan.

An undercover investigation by World Animal Protection, being released today, reveals the illegal hunting and trafficking, as well as increased attempts to breed otters across Japan, Thailand and Indonesia to satisfy a growing international demand for the animal. The investigation raises the following concerns:

  • Otter cubs are snatched from their parents in the wild. Their fiercely protective parents are shot or electrocuted, or their nests are smoked out, so poachers can take their cubs
  • Three out of four otter species found in Southeast Asia, including the Asian small-clawed otter, are considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
  • An organized network of farmers, hunters, collectors, dealers and exporters source otter cubs from the wild and export them through their networks
  • Evidence of laundering through captive breeding facilities in at least one location. Sources have indicated similar efforts elsewhere
  • Reported incidents of suggested involvement of law enforcement and government officials in facilitating the cruel trade. One report from Indonesia stated that a government worker requested surgeries on otters to remove the gland that causes them to smell to make them more appealing as pets.

In Japan, where more than one dozen animal cafés feature otters, it was found that the wild animal’s welfare is severely compromised in order to entertain customers. The otters are heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers interact with them.

Some otters are kept in solitary conditions with no natural light, others are seen biting their claws and exhibiting self-harming behavior. Some of the worst housing conditions observed included small cages with no access to water.

With long, sleek, streamlined bodies and webbed feet, otters are born swimmers. They are found in waterways and often seen floating on their backs, playing with stones, including tossing them into the air and catching them and rolling them skillfully around their chests and necks. Otters are charismatic, highly social and live in large family groups of up to 20 individuals. This is a far cry from their captive existence as pets.

Ben Williamson, US Campaigns Director says:
“Being cute is no justification for denying wild animals their freedom by keeping them locked up in someone’s home. There is no  way to replicate the space and freedom these otters  enjoy in the wild.

Regrettably, social media is increasing the worrying trend of keeping wild animals as pets. Influencers who present otters as fun and cool pets are perpetuating a trade that ignores the complex habitat, nutrition and health needs of the animal.”

With otters being assessed as at “risk of extinction in the wild,” urgent attention is needed to address illegal trade concerns and fraudulent captive breeding operations in Southeast Asia.

World Animal Protection is also urging people to not buy, own or breed a wild animal as a pet. A life in captivity is a world away from a life in the wild. Wild animals are not pets, they belong in the wild. Join the movement to help end the cruel exotic pet trade.

SOURCE World Animal Protection