Otters Gang Up on a Jaguar

04/16/18
by Ailton Lara

Editor’s Note: This is Part Two in a series about the surprising interactions between jaguars and giant otters. Read part one here. The jaguar in this story, Ague, also surprised our scientists when she crossed the river and dragged a large, decomposing caiman to shore for a feast. She is the daughter of a jaguar known as Kyra, which means “pregnant” in the indigenous Tupí-Guarani language. Her prolific mother produced six cubs in five years, thus earning her moniker. We’re working hard to ensure that jaguars are forever present in this wild landscape, so that we can continue to marvel over escapades from Ague, and the legacy of her relatives.

I was ferrying some tourists along the São Lourenço River near Panthera’s Brazilian research station when we spotted a surprising aquatic skirmish.

Ague, a female jaguar around 3 years old, had chosen the wrong spot to sit and take in the river view. The particular log she perched upon also happen to be a favorite for the area’s giant river otters to dine on fish, and the proximity to their den full of pups was too close for comfort.

So the otters made some noise, refusing to stand for the intrusion.

Eliminating the threat this big cat posed to the giant otters, also known as “ariranhas,” was a task accomplished with teamwork. First alerting the alpha male of the situation with loud vocalizations, the frenzied group of otters proceeded to storm up to Ague from the water, screaming and dashing in front of her. It was clear that their intimidation tactics were working, as continuous, flicking tail movements indicated the jaguar’s fear response.

Meanwhile, the dominant male otter, who had been separated from the group scouting new den sites, came onto the scene after hearing alarm calls. Ague, realizing that the fierce male was coming to the aid of his group, pulled an impressive maneuver that only cats are known to perform–turning around almost in a somersault–to flee the otter mob.

Following the lead of their alpha male, the other otters surged forward in unison with a flurry of derisive and intimidating sounds.

Not to be deterred from relaxing by the river, the same jaguar was observed the next day calmly lying in the shade of a tree. However, days later, it appeared the giant otters were ready to relocate, as the group was spotted 2.10 km away along the riverbed readying a previously-used nest. After the debacle with Ague in their territory, the dominant male moved the group to this quieter, more favorable den site, whose entrance was closer to the water.

Two months later, however, with rising water levels affecting the distance between the river and the den entrance, the same family of otters made another change in real estate, returning to the initial burrow. We hope they’re careful around their feline neighbors—but we know they can stick up for themselves!

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