The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS), like other resource agencies, responds to all predator attacks and is prepared to act on a moment's notice. The Predator Attack Team, with precision timing, will arrive at the scene ready to set snares or foot hold traps and even use COS hounds to catch the offendingpredator. The usual suspects for predators include grizzly bears, black bears, and cougars. Well, that's the norm, and so, officers were not ready for a call like this one.

    On August 1, 2013, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Zone, which covers the 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, and Quesnel area, was finally experiencing a break in the action when Conservation Officer Colin Kravontka called me with an unusual complaint. It seems that a complaint had been received from the Emergency Coordination Center that a female swimmer had just been attacked by two otters
in Greeny Lake, east of Lac La Hache. Huh?

    Finally understanding that this was a serious call and not a joke, I had to think about what our policy was on situations like this. I knew what the procedures were for normal predator attacks, but for otters? So, seeing that it was an actual attack, I decided to treat the call as a Predator Attack Team response and haul butt down to the 100 Mile House District General Hospital to interview the attack

    When I arrived, I was very surprised at the extent of the injuries resulting from the otter bites. In talking with the victim of
the otter attack, I learned that this woman was holidaying at Greeny Lake. She was swimming approximately 80 - 100 metres from shore when two otters started swimmingtowards her. Instead of veering off from the swimmer, the otters proceeded straight for her and began their attack. I listened closely as she stated that they swarmed her and began biting her from her hands down to her legs and feet. She attempted to fight off the offending otters, but with one otter diving and attacking her legs, and the other attacking her hands, she was not deterring the animals. A relative from shore heard her yelling, jumped into a kayak, and paddled towards her. When he arrived, he was able to fend off the otters with his paddle and then escort the exhausted and bleeding woman back to shore. Even after an attack like this, she was able to swim back to shore under her own power. The woman was taken to the 100 Mile House District General Hospital for attention to her bites and scratches. I felt that I should provide a telephone number for the Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian, Dr. Helen Schwantje, in case the doctors had concerns of diseases being transmitted to the victim from the otters.

    My supervisor and I went to Greeny Lake and met with the witness. We then patrolled the area in the local fire chief's 12 foot boat, but were unsuccessful in locating the offending otters. Residents advised that the otters had been seen daily on the other shore and had no history of being aggressive to swimmers or boaters. The public was also looking for an explanation for the attack from us. With most of our experience being related to cougar and bear attacks, we had very little experience with otter attacks. We tried to think of explanations for the attack, but the best explanation that we could come up with was that the otters were probably protecting their young. Otters can be very territorial. Although no young were observed at that time, this explanation fits the scenario. As with most wildlife, the protection of their young will turn seemingly cute and cuddly critters into biting fur balls of fury. The conservation officers discussed various options on how to deal with the otters with the local residents. It was made very clear to us that the locals did not want to see the otters trapped and moved or destroyed.

    As we were about to leave, the victim of the otter attack arrived and relayed her experience once again for both officers. She was bandaged up and in pretty good spirits, but still surprised at her ordeal. In total, she was bitten nine times by these two otters. Her husband, in good humour, commented that it's a little difficult to brag about surviving a ferocious animal attack when the attackers were otters.
Author: Len Butler.
Len is a member of the British
Columbia Society of Conservation Officers.

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