A RARE giant otter at New Forest Wildlife Park is to be sent to Trinidad to mate, in a move that’s a first for the UK and for conservationists Carol and Roger Heap.

Giant otter Akuri has been selected by the international stud book keeper for giant otters to be sent to the Emperor Valley Zoo in Port of Spain to breed. He will be introduced to a specially-selected female, a wild rescue giant otter from Central America that was left at the zoo gates by illegal traders. It is hoped the pair will breed and their young may become some of the first captive-bred otters to be reintroduced into the wilds of South America.

Roger and Carol are the first people to breed the giant otter successfully in the UK and Akuri will be the first giant otter sent abroad from the UK to help conserve the species.

“We are all thrilled and excited about this development,” said Carol, who began looking after rescued otters in her back garden in Derbyshire in the 1980s.

“Giant otters are highly endangered and we are really pleased that Akuri has been chosen to mate and to help conserve this important and lovely species in captivity and to help prevent its extinction in the wild.

“All efforts are made by the stud book keeper to prevent in-breeding, as the genetic pool for these captive otters is quite small. We were delighted when Nirmal Biptah, the animal curator in Trinidad, explained that their female could not be related to any captive animals as she had been poached by illegal traders in Venezuela. This is a good strong genetic line.”

Giant otter populations have declined due to illegal hunting for their fur and because of loss or degradation of their natural habitats due to mining, deforestation and pollution. The largest of the world’s 13 otter species, giant otter males attain an overall length of 1.5 to 1.8m and weigh between 26-32kg, while females generally measure 1.5-1.7m in length and may weigh between 22-26 kg.