CORNWALL, Dec 13 — Some otter species learn by copying their friends.
That’s the finding from the first social learning study of the animal.
Puzzles baited with peanuts, fish heads, and mice, were presented to two captive otter groups.
Smooth-coated otters copied each other’s problem-solving techniques to grab a meal.
Asian short-clawed otters didn’t.
“This actually makes sense when you think about their life history. We know that the smooth-coated otters in the wild, they tend to forage together co-operatively. They will actually swim down rivers in these V-shapes and round up fish together. And so you might expect them to actually watch each other and use information provided by others to get their food. In contrast the Asian short-clawed otters they mostly seem to forage individually,” Dr Neeltje Boogert, of the Centre For Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall said.
Otter numbers are threatened by habitat loss, poaching, water pollution, and pathogens carried by humans and their pets.
Researchers hope social transmission could be used to train captive-bred otters to cope in the wild.
“If we know, for example, that smooth-coated otters, young ones all learn very quickly from each other, we could actually direct training, get a demonstrator young otter to show how to evade humans, how to get away from dogs, and then this information could possibly be transmitted in groups of otters that are then put back into the wild,” Boogert said.
Thirteen species of otter exist in the wild, all classified as vulnerable or threatened with extinction. — Reuters