As you can see in the photos below, Belle and Phillip, the orphaned giant otters growing up at Karanambu, have tripled in size since my last posting. The two play with each other almost constantly—when they are not catching fish. For a pair of hand-reared otters, they are quite wild.
Phillip, in particular, has become a biter. He has gone after a number of people and delivered several serious bites, usually to the ankle or back of the arm. Belle often follows him with the intent to sneak in a second nip. Even Diane is routinely bitten, though not as badly as if the person were a stranger. This is, of course, perfectly natural. The downside is that visitors to Karanambu need to stay a safe distance away from this appealing but potentially dangerous pair.
Both otters are also afraid of boats. Though this is also what one would expect of wild animals, the orphans had to be taught this behavior. When Phillip and Belle were still cubs, Stefy and Talia worked hard to teach them to run at the sound of the outboard engine. We know from past experience that an otter that jumps into a fisher’s boat or runs up to a person expecting a free fish meal is likely to be welcomed with a knock on the head, or worse.
The result of all of this is that during my most recent visit to Karanambu in early February, I observed Phillip and Belle from the safety of a boat. As usual, for every photograph in focus, I took two dozen blurry ones. I left feeling relatively optimistic about the future of these two orphans. As long as the Karanambu staff can protect them from aggressive caiman and solo male otters—both known killers of orphaned otters, in addition to angry fishers—they have a good chance of making it back to the wild. When the water level drops, they will probably leave Karanambu. I am predicting they will go as a breeding pair; Diane is not as certain. As with many carnivores, when a male and female grow up together in close quarters, they rarely breed.
Then again, it is possible that nothing will be normal about the upcoming dry season. Even now, in February, the river is still so high that there is no sight of the sandbank. The creeks are still running high between the Honey Ponds, which means the fish, and the otters, can be anywhere. This would explain why I saw only one pair of wild otters on one day out of eight on my walks to pond number three. Even the sky cannot seem to decide whether to cloud with rain or clear with sunshine.
I have been away from my blog for much longer than I had planned. My mother became suddenly ill early last fall and died three weeks later. Since then, I have not been able to write—until now. During my last visit to Karanambu, I realized how much I missed writing to her about my adventures there. Yet the stories go on. Who knows, maybe one day I will write the “giants of Karanambu” book we once talked about.
More about the latest at Karanambu from me within the week.