River otter (Lutra canadensis)
River otters are part of the Mustelid (or weasel) family and, as is shown by their high level of sociability, they are extremely intelligent animals. Typically, they form family groups consisted of one female and her young. Males, on the other hand, are more solitary, but they still remain associated with their family. Young adults can also form social groups and hunt together.
River otters are Kouchibouguac National Park’s top predators for riparian and estuarine habitats. As such, they rely on a healthy environment, both in water and on land, to provide enough potential prey for the year as river otters don’t migrate with the change of seasons. Although river otters are perfectly adapted to aquatic life, they depend on healthy terrestrial environment as they need shelters to protect both themselves and their young from bad weather.
River otters don’t excavate their own burrows, rather they use or modify those built by other animals along river banks. They depend on quality river banks with tunnels and substrates that are easily excavated by other animals, such as beavers and muskrats.
From 2000 to 2004, Kouchibouguac National Park conducted a research project in partnership with the Université de Moncton to evaluate the potential use of the river otter as an ecological integrity indicator for the Park’s riparian and estuarine habitats. Scientific research has confirmed this animal is closely linked to the health of these ecosystems, and the Park’s resource conservation team has been monitoring them since. Each year, the team searches for signs of their activity during winter when streams are frozen and easily accessible and river banks are snowcovered, making it easier to spot and identify the different otter families present in the Park.