The Eurasian otter has been chosen as Estonia's animal of the year for 2024.
The Estonian Theriological Society (Teriolooga Selts; theriology refers to the study of mammals), which made the announcement, says that common otter numbers in Estonia have recovered, following long periods of fluctuation.
The society noted that: "Otters living in bodies of water [in Estonia] testify to the comparatively strong ecological state of the environs, while any disappearance of this species contra-wise indicates the deterioration of that environment."
Remek Meel, an otter expert at the theriological society, commented that: "Numbers of this species in Estonia have been as low as 300 individuals, but in recent years estimates have come to nearly 2,000 animals, while the species has also reached the larger islands."
"In Estonia, the otter is doing quite well currently, but we can still lead to it becoming endangered as a result of our carelessness, hence the requirement to constantly monitor the population here," Meel went on.
Eurasian otters (Lutra lutra) may be less familiar to many people in Estonia, particularly when swimming, when they may be confused with the higher profile Eurasian beaver, or the muskrat (the latter an introduced species native to North America).
The animal is also fearful of human presence, and has a keen sense of both smell and hearing, though the patient may be rewarded if waiting for long enough on a river bank, or in a boat on open water.
The otter's idiosyncratic gait make it more of an obvious spot when it does venture on to land, while as with many wild animals it can also be tracked, for example after it leaves paw-prints in the snow.
Species numbers are monitored annually; threats include land reclamation, construction, environmental pollutants, hazards such as beaver traps (beavers may be hunted in Estonia, otters may not) and fishing equipment, road traffic, competitor species such as mink, and climate fluctuations.
The otter is considered an internationally endangered species and has been on Estonia's third-category protection list for nearly 50 years.
Numbers in the Baltic Sea region more broadly have fallen significantly since 1960.
An Estonian animal of the year, more accurately, a mammal species of the year, has been picked annually since 2013, and is picked by Tallinn Zoo, the Estonian hunters' society (Eesti Jahimeeste Selts),
Aasta looma (täpsemini imetajat) on valitud alates 2013. aastast. Koostöörühma kuuluvad MTÜ Aasta loom, Eesti Terioloogia Selts, the Estonian Nature Society (Eesti Looduskaitse Selts), the Estonian Museum of Natural History (Eesti Loodusmuuseum), the nature calendar (Looduskalender) and an NGO specifically set-up in relation to animal of the year, plus the theriological society itself.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karmen Rebane
Source: ERR Menu