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Lutrine-on-Feline Encounter

Updated: May 7, 2023

The buzzer alarm sounds in my sitting room launching me into a mad scramble. I grab my head torch and slip on a pair of gumboots before hurtling down to the stream below the house in the hope of rendezvousing with an approaching otter. In the process of triggering the buzzer alarm, the otter has taken a "selfie".

Stood on “my” side of the river, I am surprised to see the otter climb a near vertical section of the far bank and enter the field some two meters above water level. Then, 30 seconds later, its chestnut form taking the same route, slips back down the bank and re-enters the stream. As it did so, a second pair of eyes appear from stage right, glinting in the torch light. Beyond the post and rail fencing, Pumba, the neighbour’s black and white feline, advances slowly towards the precise spot where the otter had been only moments before. As Pumba continues on his way, I ponder as to why the otter had climbed the bank in the first place and what might have been the outcome of a lutrine-on-feline encounter. I don’t have to wait long to find out ...

Within a minute of returning to the stream, the otter scrambles back up the bank and is on a collision course with the approaching Pumba. Clearly visible just beyond the railings, now only four meters apart, lutrine and feline freeze momentarily as they weigh up their individual strengths and weaknesses before deciding on their next moves.

Within seconds there is a loud snort, lutrine I suspect, as the otter lurches forward closing the gap on Pumba by half. Pumba, usually a force to be reckoned with, retreats a little before turning to face his menacing adversary. Following another brief standoff, the otter thinking better of a confrontation, returns from whence it came to continue its journey upstream as Pumba heads back towards the sanctuary of his home a short distance away.

Why did the otter go up the bank in the first place? Sadly, I will never know. On its first sortie had the otter seen the approaching Pumba in the distance then retreated, only for its inquisitiveness to get the better of it necessitating another look? I suspect so, in a behaviour akin to a weasel and fellow mustelid. Weasels, spotting something strange as they dart across a ride often feel compelled to “pop back” for a second look (a behaviour that gamekeepers are fully aware of with fatal consequences for the weasel).

Pumba had already encountered several otters, but in all likelihood at a safe distance, he on the riverbank, the otter in the stream. On two previous scrambles he and I had shared a joint viewing as an otter worked its way upstream, Pumba from his vantage point perched high on a riverside bench on the far bank, myself stood on the near bank.

If there's a next time, will Pumba keep his distance? For both his and the otter's sake, I hope so!

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