ArticlePDF Available

Recent seizures of live otters in Southeast Asia

  • Monitor Conservation Research Society
IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 34(2) 2017
- 81 -
Lalita GOMEZ and Jamie BOUHUYS
TRAFFIC, Regional Office in Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
(Received 19th April 2017, accepted 5th May 2017)
Abstract: The recent spate of otter seizures in Southeast Asia highlight the potential
threat of the pet trade on the Small-clawed Otter including the need to further investigate
the source of otters in trade and its impact on wild populations.
There has been a recent spate of otter seizures occurring across Southeast Asia,
which all took place within the space of a month. In each case the seizures were of
juvenile otters. Most of these were Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus, a species
increasingly favoured in the illegal pet trade.
In Indonesia, a live otter, along with 14 other wildlife species, was seized on 22
February 2017 during a raid carried out by Indonesian authorities in a village in North
Tangkerang, Sumatra (Anonymous, 2017). The exact otter species however was not
reported. One suspect was arrested and has been charged under Article 29 of Law No.
5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources. The public alerted the Indonesia
authorities (i.e. Nature Conservation Agency or Balai Besar Konservasi Sumberdaya
Alam (BBKSDA) and Law Enforcement Agency - Region II Sumatra KLHK or Balai
Penegakan Hukum Wilayah II Sumatera KLHK) to the suspect who was selling the
animals on Facebook.
In Malaysia, also taking place in February 2017, the wildlife authorities
undertook a series of raids that led to the seizure of 209 live wild animals destined for
the illegal exotic pet trade (TRAFFIC, 2017). In one of these raids, a juvenile Small-
clawed Otter was confiscated from a local woman who has been arrested and will be
investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (TRAFFIC, 2017).
In Thailand, 26 February 2017, 12 live otters were seized at the Don Mueang
International Airport in Bangkok as reported by the Bangkok Post. A Japanese
national was arrested for trying to smuggle the live animals into Japan in his luggage.
He claimed to have bought the animals at the notorious Chatuchak weekend market
(known for the availability of illegal wildlife) for THB15 000 (USD435 as of 28
March 2017) with the intention of raising them as pets back home in Japan. Four of
the otters were identified as juvenile Small-clawed Otters, based on a photo of the
otters seized (ASEAN-WEN, 2017). However it’s uncertain whether the remaining
eight otters belonged to the same species. There has only been one other incident
where live otters have been seized in Thailand that were intended for international
trade-in 2013, TRAFFIC reported five Small-clawed and six Smooth-coated Otter
pups seized at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Shepherd and Tansom,
2013). They were discovered when Customs officers scanned a bag that had been left
at the oversized luggage area of the airport. Interestingly, these too were bound for
Japan, likely to be sold as exotic pets (Shepherd and Tansom, 2013). Additionally,
during recent surveys carried out by TRAFFIC at exotic pet shops and a reptile fair in
Japan at least three full-grown Small-clawed Otters were observed for sale.
IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 34(2) 2017
- 82 -
Lastly in Viet Nam, in March 2017 three juvenile Small-clawed Otters were
seized at a wildlife trader’s house. Vinh Long Environmental Police together with the
Vinh Long Forest Protection Department checked the house after a tip-off received
through Education for Nature Vietnam’s Wildlife Crime Hotline (Education for
Nature Vietnam, 2017). Following this seizure, the trader has declared on Facebook
he is shutting down his wildlife trading business. It is unclear from the report whether
the authorities are taking any action against the trader.
These cases highlight the threat of the exotic pet industry to otter species: in
particular the Small-clawed Otter. Based on a TRAFFIC and International Union for
Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Otter Specialist Group preliminary assessment of
illegal trade of otters in Asia, there has been a recent spike in the seizure of live otters,
which has mostly occurred in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam (Gomez et
al., 2016). Additionally, there has been a noticeable shift in the trade of wildlife from
physical markets to online markets such as Facebook (Anonymous, 2014;
Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016) which is also the case in at least three of the above
mentioned seizures.
While much of the trade in otters as pets has seemingly been to meet domestic
demands, the seizure of otters in Bangkok airport indicates the existence of an
international market i.e. an illegal trade chain from Thailand and possibly other
Southeast Asian countries to Japan.
The Small-clawed Otter is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species due to threats caused by pollution of waterways, reduction of
prey, habitat destruction and poaching (Wright et al., 2015). It is listed in Appendix II
of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES), which means international commercial trade in the species is regulated
and can only take place with the relevant export permits. This species is native to all
four countries where the seizures have occurred and is totally protected in all of them
except Indonesia. Other factors that remain uncertain and need to be investigated
further are whether these juvenile otters are poached from the wild or are being
captive-bred, as well as what effects the trade is having on wild populations.
Anonymous (2014). Otter up for sale on Facebook. Borneo Bulletin Online - The Independent
Newspaper in Brunei Darussalam, Sabah and Sarawak, Published 12th November 2014. Online
at: Viewed on 20 June 2016.
Anonymous (2017). Dijual Melalui Facebook BBKSDA Amankan 15 Satwa Dilindungi.
(Indonesia). Online at:
amankan-15-satwa-dilindungi.html#ixzz4ZVDZzA6t. Viewed on 30 March 2017.
ASEAN-WEN. (2017). Untitled. ASEAN-WEN Facebook. Online at:
4. Viewed on 30 March.
Education for Nature Vietnam. (2017). Busted wildlife trader calls it a day. Education for Nature
Vietnam (ENV) Facebook. Online at: Viewed on 3
April 2017.
Gomez, L., Leupen, B.T.C., Theng, M., Fernandez, K., Savage, M. (2016). Illegal Otter Trade: An
analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980-2015). TRAFFIC. Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia.
Krishnasamy, K., Stoner, S.S. (2016). Trading Faces: A Rapid Assessment on the Use of Facebook to
Trade Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor,
Shepherd, C.R., Tansom, P. (2013). Seizure of live otters in Bangkok Airport, Thailand. IUCN Otter
Specialist Group Bulletin 30(1) 2013:37-38
IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 34(2) 2017
- 83 -
TRAFFIC (2017). Malaysia clamps down on wildlife smuggling: five operations in a fortnight.
TRAFFIC Website (UK). Online at:
down-on-wildlife-smuggling-five-operations-i.html. Viewed on 30 March 2017.
Wright, L., de Silva, P., Chan, B. & Reza Lubis, I. (2015). Aonyx cinereus. The IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species 2015: e.T44166A21939068.
2.RLTS.T44166A21939068.en. Downloaded on 28 December 2017.
La récente série de saisies de loutre dans le Sud-Est de l’Asie souligne la menace
potentielle du commerce d’animaux de compagnie sur la loutre cendrée incluant la
nécessité d’enquêter plus avant sur la provenance des loutres sur le marché et son
impact sur la population sauvage.
La reciente oleada de incautaciones en el Sudeste Asiático destacan la potencial
amenaza que significa el comercio de mascotas sobre la nutria de uñas pequeñas
asiática, incluyendo la necesidad de investigar más a fondo el origen de las nutrias que
se comercian y su impacto en las poblaciones silvestres.
... A report providing an overview of the Asian illegal otter trade shows the trade of live otters to be relatively recent, with seizure data recorded from the 2000s onwards, compared to seizures of dead individuals (skins, carcasses and body parts), which extended back to the 1980s (Gomez et al., 2016). And while the number of live otter seizures was relatively small (Gomez et al., 2016) and predominantly supplied domestic trade (Gomez & Bouhuys, 2017), an increase in live otter trade and popularity of otters in the pet trade has been observed. ...
... In 2013, evidence of illegal, international trade of live otters was observed (Gomez & Bouhuys, 2017; "Eleven live otters", 2013) when a total of 11 otters reportedly headed for the exotic pet market in Japan were seized in Thailand (Shepherd & Tansom, 2013). Later, 2017 saw a spate of seizures, including three separate seizures totalling 32 live otters allegedly en route from Thailand to Japan (Figure 3), reported in the media ("Japanese man caught", 2017; "Foreigner charged", 2017; Kyodo, 2017). ...
Full-text available
Animal-themed cafes are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, both with locals and international tourists. Recently otters have been added to the suite of exotic species available in these cafes. Otter populations are declining worldwide due to habitat loss, water pollution, reduction in prey biomass, and poaching. The advent of otter cafes has the potential to further impact otter populations as they can stimulate the otter pet trade and illegal wildlife trade. However, there is very little baseline information available from which to consider their contribution. Therefore, a rapid-review of animal-themed cafes through internet search and visits to three cafes was undertaken to acquire preliminary information regarding the status of otter cafes in Japan. Eight cafes which kept 22 otters between them, were identified. As interactions with otters in cafes can depict them as “pet appropriate”, the cafes have the potential to motivate the otter pet trade. In addition, a recent spike in seized, live otters en route to Japan, corresponds with the timing of the opening of the otter cafes. Therefore, further investigation is required to determine the effect of otter cafes on otter populations, particularly their influence on the pet trade and illegal wildlife trade. OTTER, The Journal of the International Otter Survival Fund (Vol 4) 23-28.
... In the past 35 years, seizure records reveal that otters are traded in around 15 Asian countries, the majority being in China, India, and Nepal (Gomez et al 2016). However, in recent years, there have been a growing number of seizures of "live otters" in Southeast Asia which suggested an emerging trend of otters being caught for the commercial pet trade in this region (Gomez and Bouhuys 2017). ...
... However, despite the legislation in place, domestic and international trade exists. For instance, in 2017, there were two separate airport seizures resulting from attempts to smuggle more than 20 live otters out to Japan (Gomez and Bouhuys 2017). We conduct a 14-month analysis of the otter trade on social media platforms in Thailand. ...
Full-text available
Social media has become an increasingly popular platform to trade legal and illegal wildlife. Here, we evaluate the online trade of otters, a group of globally threatened taxa in Thailand, a country of high global social media use. During the 14-month period, we monitored five Facebook groups to establish a primary understanding of the scope and scale of the trade. We recorded 160 sales posts (337 individual otters) of two species, the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) (81%) and the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) (19%). Newborn otter pups accounted for 53% of the offers, whereas young otters accounted for 35%. Prices averaged US$78, where the smooth-coated otter was offered at a significantly higher price than the Asian small-clawed otter. Juvenile otters were also significantly more expensive than newborns. Trade appears to be domestic; however, the potential for international trade cannot be overlooked. Although otters are protected domestically, we find that the trade is easily accessible and prevalent. The results reflect current inadequacies in enforcement and legislation in keeping pace with the rapidly shifting nature of the Internet in Thailand and throughout the global Internet community. A consistent collaborative effort from consumers, enforcement agencies, and operators is required to address this illicit trade. © 2018 National Science Museum of Korea (NSMK) and Korea National Arboretum (KNA)
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.