The Life Story of an Otter
THE LIFE STORY
: OF AN OTTER :
J. C. TREGARTHEN
THE LIFE STORY OF
BY J. C. TREGARTHEN
AUTHOR OF 'WILD LIFE AT THE LAND'S END' AND
'THE LIFE STORY OF A FOX'
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
|I.||IN THE NURSERY||1|
|III.||THE FIRST TREK||21|
|IV.||AT THE CREEK||39|
|V.||SEA AND MARSH||53|
|VI.||THE FAMILY BROKEN UP||69|
|VII.||THE OTTER AT THE TARN||83|
|VIII.||THE OTTER AND HIS MATE||104|
|IX.||FROST AND FAMINE||120|
|XI.||BACK IN THE OLD HAUNTS||145|
|XII.||THE LONG TRAIL||166|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|HURRYING HOME||to face page||8|
|THE RIVER BELOW THE MILL||„||18|
|THE WILD COAST-LINE||„||62|
|HOUNDS SWIMMING AN OTTER||„||78|
|ON HIS WAY UP THE CREEK||„||107|
|HIS LAST SALMON||„||173|
The otter has long seemed to me worthy of serious attention, if only for the successful struggle it has waged against those exterminating agencies under which the badger, the wild-cat, the polecat and the marten have all but succumbed.
Its survival throughout Great Britain is due, partly to its endurance and resources when hunted, partly to qualities and habits which differentiate it from the other creatures of the wild. Its scent, for instance, unlike that of fox or badger, to which every tike and lurcher will stoop, is noticed by few dogs save hounds that have been trained to own it; and the outlawed beast thus gains a certain immunity from destruction.
Then the otter is a great wanderer, who not only traverses long stretches of coast and follows streams and rivers to their source, but crosses hills and even mountains to reach its fishing-grounds. It has been known to travel fifteen miles in a night, and not infrequently the holts where it lies up during the day are ten or twelve miles apart.
On the way to its quarters it will linger to fish or hunt, and the remains of eel, salmon, pike, rabbit, moorhen or wild-duck mark the scene of the midnight feast. But no matter how much it may leave uneaten the otter never returns to a kill, and so escapes the traps with which gamekeeper or water-bailiff is sure to ring the ground about it. Unlike its congener the polecat, the otter does not hoard food; unless the caches of frogs occasionally found in marshes are its work, and not that of the heron as is generally supposed.
However that may be it is certain that it does not hibernate, but is abroad night after night the whole year round. Indeed, as often as not, the female produces her young in the depth of winter, and indefatigable forager though she is, must often be sore pressed to provide food for her litter. At times the conditions are too severe, and a tragedy ensues. At Mullyon, in Mount's Bay, one bitterly cold December, when the Poldhu stream was frozen and the sea too rough and discoloured for the otter to fish, the poor creature in her extremity crept into a bungalow in the course of erection, and was there found curled up dead.
It seems to me a matter for regret that such an interesting beast is not better known; and the present narrative is an attempt to portray it amidst the wild surroundings that are so congenial to its shy nature.
The critical reader will perhaps wonder at the daring that essays to interpret the workings of the most subtle of animal brains, but I submit that the inferences are, for the most part, of a very safe character; and modest as they are, they would not have been adventured on, had it not been for my long familiarity with the ways and habits of a creature that is by general consent the most mysterious and inscrutable of our fauna, for the incidents described embody the gleanings of a lifetime of observation and inquiry. It will be noted that I agree with those who hold that in pursuit of fish the otter is guided wholly by sight, though it may well be that the extraordinary powers of scent which enable the creature to detect the presence of fish in a stream or pond by sniffing the surface are called into play during immersion.
The story of the otter is, I believe, now told at any length for the first time; and my hope is to bring about a wider and deeper interest in the animal, and be the means of removing some of the prejudice which unjustly attaches to it.
I take this opportunity of thanking the Duchess of Bedford and Mr. J. G. Millais for their courtesy in allowing me the use of most valuable illustrations.
- West Cornwall.
- March 10, 1909.