Colorado city records first North American river otter sighting in 100 years

A city at the base of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains has recorded its first sighting of a North American river otter in about 100 years. A motion-sensitive wildlife surveillance camera captured images of an otter twice recently, at night, along Boulder Creek, just outside of Boulder’s population center.


North American river otter munches on the tail of a white sucker. Images were captured by a motion-sensitive camera and are courtesy of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks

The nocturnal critters, relatives of the weasel and once widely hunted for their pelts, are federally endangered.

“I was extremely surprised,” Christian Nunes of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, told the Boulder Daily Camera. “It’s a species that is quite rare in Colorado.”

The camera had been stationed near a beaver lodge and other critters that have been photographed include beavers, raccoons, and mink. The recently-released images were captured on Feb. 26 and March 7.

northern river otter

Of the otter Nunes said, “It actually sat in front of the camera for several more minutes, sitting there munching on the fish tail.”

River otters, driven to regionalized extinction in the late 1800s and early 1900s, reside near rivers or estuary systems and prey on fish, amphibians, turtles, and crayfish.

The animals are believed to be mounting a slow comeback in Colorado thanks to reintroduction efforts that began in the 1970s.

Those efforts were focused on the Front Range and Western Slope of the Rockies, but the only significant comeback has occurred on the Western Slope.

Boulder, however, is on the Front Range, so to have a verified sighting there has pleased state wildlife officials.

Eric Odell of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said past reported sightings generally turned out to be false alarms–“they turn out to be muskrat, mink,  or beaver”–so to finally have a verified sighting is “pretty exciting.”

Surveys will be conducted later this year in an attempt to obtain a statewide otter population estimate. If biologists are pleased with the findings, the animals’ status could be upgraded.