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IUCN/SCC Otter Specialist Group Bulletin
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Volume 33 A: Proceedings European Otter Workshop, 8 - 11 June 2015, Stockholm, Sweden

Citation: Oleynikov, AY and Saveljev, AP (2015). Current Distribution, Population and Population Density of the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) in Russia and some Adjacent Countries – a Review .  Proceedings European Otter Workshop, 8 - 11 June 2015, Stockholm, Sweden. IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 33 (A): 21 - 30

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Current Distribution, Population and Population Density of the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) in Russia and some Adjacent Countries – a Review

Alexey Yu. Oleynikov1* and Alexander P Saveljev2

1 Laboratory of Animal Ecology, Institute of Aquatic and Ecological Problems, Far East Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Khabarovsk 680000, 56 Dikopoltsev str., Russia. Email: shivki@yandex.ru
* Corresponding Author
2 Department of Animal Ecology, Zhitkov Russian Research Institute of Game Management and Fur Farming, Kirov 610000, 79 Preobrazhenskaya str., Russia

Alexey Yu. Oleynikov. Click for larger version      Alexander P Saveljev. Click for larger version
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Abstract: In this paper we review the available literature, mainly Russian, and present our data on the distribution, number and population density of otter in Russia and in some adjacent countries. The Eurasian otter is a wide spread species in the Russian Federation, with a distribution from the tundra zone to the subtropics. The description of the northeastern border of the current geographic range of Lutra lutra is presented. Estimated otter population size in Russia is approximately 60-80 thousand individuals. Population density of otters in various habitats can differ within two orders of magnitude, ranging from 5-8 to 0.05 individuals per 10 km of coastline of water reservoirs. The otter is included in Red Data Books of 48 regions of Russia and is a harvested species in 21 regions.
Keywords: Eurasian otter, Lutra lutra, distribution, status, Russia
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The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) inhabits considerable parts of the Russian Federation. A significant part of the global population of the species is concentrated here. The otter lives in severe climatic conditions in Russia and its distribution reaches even the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Information on distribution and the status of the Eurasian otter in Russia is insufficient and patchy (Conroy et al., 1998, 2001). It is essential that we challenge this lack of information based on our own data as most information is inaccessible to most of researchers not able to read Russian publications. In this publication we have generalized the data which are available for us across Russia (the former RSFSR) and border areas of some adjacent states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Azerbaidzhan, Armenia, Ukraine and Mongolia.


According to the recent report on the world's mammal species, there are eleven Eurasian otter subspecies: lutra, angustifrons, aurobrunneus, barang, chinensis, hainana, kutab, meridionalis, monticola, seistanica and nair (Wilson and Reeder, 2005). Otters from Japan were described as a separate subspecies Lutra lutra nippon (Imaizumi and Yoshiyuki, 1989) and was later treated as a separate species (Wozencraft, 2005). Two subspecies dwell in Russia: L. l. lutra L., 1758 and L. l. meridionalis Ognev, 1931. One more subspecies (L. l. seistanica) has been identified within the territory of the former USSR (Geptner et al., 1967). L. l. meridionalis inhabits the Greater Caucasus, the Transcaucasia region, and Central Asia (the northern and western parts of Iran). However, recent studies of craniometric variability gave ground for combining this subspecies with the nominative one L. l lutra (Baryshnikov, Puzachenko, 2012). The taxonomical status of a taxon of L. l. meridionalis described from vicinities of Tehran (Ognev 1931), remains unclear, but most likely it should be considered as minor synonym of the nominative subspecies (Baryshnikov, Puzachenko, 2012). According to the authors mentioned above, L. l. seistanica (oxiana) Birula, 1912 inhabiting southeastern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan has strongly pronounced subspecies distinctions.


Over one-third (37%) of the entire area inhabited by Lutra lutra lies in Russia. The otter inhabits all the natural zones of the country, from tundra to mountains, mixed forests and semi-deserts (Fig. 1). In the northwest of Russia the otter is widespread along the coast of the Barents Sea from Murmansk to the east to the mouth of the Pechora River (except for the easternmost tip of the Kola Peninsula and the Kanin Nose Peninsula). To the east the border of geographic range crosses Polar Ural Mountains, bends around Gulf of Ob and the Yenisei Gulf of the Kara Sea, pressing to the north of the line of the Polar circle, and covering basins of the Heth and Kotuy Rivers. Further the border of distribution crosses the middle stretch of the Lena River, further to the mouth of the Kolyma River, then to the coast of the Bering Sea to the south of Anadyr Bay (Dubinin, 2002). The otter can be found on Kamchatka Peninsula, Sakhalin Island and Bolshoy Shantar Island, the islands in the Peter the Great Bay, and some islands of the Barents Sea (Kildin, Kharlov, Maly Zelenets Islands, etc. (Rakhilin, 1967). The otter inhabited the southern Kuril Islands of Kunashiri and Iturup (Kuroda, 1933) but the otter has been extincted during the 1950s as a result of destructive trade and uncontrolled harvesting (Oleynikov et al., 2015). The species inhabits the coastline of the Sea of Japan and Strait of Tartary approximately up to 51ºN all the year round while further north the otter is only occasionally found in the littoral area.

Map of Russia and adjacent countries showing Lutra lutra distribution across most of the area with the exception of Siberia, the extreme north, and the central desert and dry steppe belt. Click for larger version
Figure 1. Eurasian otter distribution (red) in Russia and some adjacent countries. (click for larger version)

The species dwells in the eastern part of Mongolia, at the outskirts of the Greater Khingan Rangein the northern parts - in the basins of the Onon, Selemdzha, and Tes Rivers, in the Hovsgol and Ubsu-Nur lakes, and in the western part - in the Tsagaan Gol basin (Batsaikhan et al., 2010).

Two otter subspecies (lutra andseistanica) are found in Kazakhstan. L. l. lutra inhabits the eastern (Irtysh River), western (Ural River) and the northern part of Kazakhstan, and L. l. seistanica lives in the upper Ili River, where it also has a tendency to expand its distribution (Shaimardanov, Lobachev, Yu, 2010). The animals do not inhabit the Turan Lowland, most part of the Kazakh Hummocks, and have disappeared from the northern slopes of the Dzungarian Alatau (Gvozdev, 1986). L. l. seistanica is also found in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The otters inhabiting some areas of the southern and northern Caucasian Federal Districts were classified as the Caucasian subspecies L. meridionalis. The Caucasian subspecies is rare throughout Russia and has been included in the Red Data Books of Russia (category 3), Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in the regional Red Lists of endangered species. It is found rarely or sporadically in the Altai, Trans-Urals, southern Transbaikalia, and Central Black Earth regions.

The otter (Lutra l. l.) is distributed throughout Ukraine (Volokh, Rozhenko, 2009). It does not inhabit the lower reaches of the Zeya River, the interstream area between the Ob and Irtysh Rivers, and the Crimean Peninsula (Geptner et al., 1967).


In Russia, the otter is classified as a commercially harvested fur species with hunting regulated by a licensing system. The license system for otter hunting that has been adopted in Siberia and in the Russian Far East since the 1940s and in European Russia since the 1960s used to play a positive role (theretofore the otter hunt carry out without restriction). Currently it is nothing more than a formality. Today, some of the quota licenses remain unpurchased and the harvesting intensity is low. The average reported hunting rate represents approximately 0.5% of the available resources of this species based on officially estimations of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. However, the real number of otters harvested in Russia is several times higher. The number of otters hunted is now pushed by market demands.

In Russia, the Eurasian otter was intensely hunted in the 20th century and the otter harvest rate was as high as 5,000 individuals per year. In the 1980s, the Kamchatka and Khabarovsk Krais, the Arkhangelsk and Kirov Regions, and the Komi Republic held the leading positions in hunting this species. The contribution of these regions to the total rate of otter fur harvesting in the USSR was 67.5% (Makarov et al., 2012).

In the late 1990s, the demand for otter skins in Russia increased (the purchase price ranged from 70 to 230 USD). Most skins harvested in Russia were illegally exported and over 98% of the confiscated fur stock was intended to be exported to China (Prokhorov, 2009). It is not only otter skin that is highly valued in China but also its internal organs are used in traditional medicine (Sheng, 1992). The demand for otter skins was high both in China and other Southeast Asian countries and the Tibetan people used otter skins to make traditional costumes and adornments but the Dalai Lama has made important announcements(see below).

A total of 978 contraband otter skins were confiscated (17 confiscation cases) in 1999-2006 in the Russian Far East (Lyapustin et al., 2007). In June 2001, 160 otter skins were confiscated on the Sino-Russian border in the Jewish Autonomous Region (which doubled the official hunting rate in the region) (Prokhorov, 2009). It is absolutely clear that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

From 1990–2006 as international demand for the otter skins was great the otter resources in Russia were intensively exploited. In this period: the otter skins made up to 10% of the total fur harvest rate in Russia (Grevtsev, 2007).

Overhunting was observed in some areas easily accessible to hunters in the commercially exploited regions of the Russian Far East and Siberia. The demand for otter fur has declined since 2006‑2007 and the otter harvest rate decreased. This was preceded by the 14th Dalai Lama's address made in 2006 on the necessity of stopping the overuse of animal skins, of which many are becoming endangered while their hunting is illegal (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4415929.stm).

Today while some of the quota licenses remain unpurchased most harvested skins are sold on the domestic market. According to the official reports, only 232–390 otters per season were harvested in Russia during the three hunting seasons in 2007–2010 (Lomanova et al., 2011). The official use of otter resources is at a very low level (0.5% of the available resources of this species).  However, the real number of otters harvested in Russia is several times higher than the reported data (Grevtsev, 2007; Makarov et al., 2012).

The otter has been added to the regional Red Data Books of 48 (56%) (out of 85 regions) entities of the Russian Federation (Table 1). In 2007–2010, the otter was harvested in 21 administrative areas of Russia (Lomanova et al., 2011). No quota permits were issued in 14 areas (Fig. 2).

Table 1: Regions of the Russia where Eurasian otter listed in regional Red Data Books

Federal districts, subjects of the Russian Federation Year of the publication of the resolution on the regional Red Data Book Category*
I. Central     
  1. Bryansk region 2003 3
  2. Vladimir region 2008 1
  3. Voronezh region 2008 3
  4. Kaluga region 2000 2
  5. Kursk region 2013 3
  6. Lipetsk region 2005 2
  7. Moscow region 2008 2
  8. Smolensk region 2012 2
  9. Tambov region 2010 3
  10. Belgorod region 2005 3
  11. Oryol region 2006 2
II. Northwest     
  12. Republic of Karelia 2007 3
  13. Murmansk region 2003 2
  14. Leningrad region 2005 3
  15. St. Petersburg 2011 3
III. North Caucasian     
  16. Republic of Dagestan 2009 3
  17. Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia 2013 3
  18. Republic of Northern Ossetia-Alania 1999 3
  19. Republic of Chechnya 2007 2
  20. Republic of Ingushetia 2006 2
  21. Stavropol Krai 2010 3
  22. Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria 2004 3
IV. Youzhny     
  23. Republic of Adygea 2013 2
  24. Krasnodar Krai 2011 3
  25. Rostov region 2010 3
  26. Republic of Kalmykia 2010 1
V. Volga     
  27. Republic of Bashkortostan 2002 2
  28. Republic of Mariy El 2009 3
  29. Republic of Tatarstan 2009 2
  30. Ulyanovsk region 2003 1
  31. Republic of Chuvashia 2010 1
  32. Saratov region 2006 1
  33. Samara region 2005 1
  34. Penza region 2006 2
  35. Orenburg region 2012 2
VI. Ural     
  36. Chelyabinsk region 2005 2
  37. Sverdlovsk region 2008 2
VII. Siberian     
  38. Republic of Altai 2006 3
  39. Republic of Buryatia 2005 2
  40. Republic of Khakassia 2014 3
  41. Altai Krai 2006 2
  42. Irkutsk region 2010 3
  43. Zabaykalskiy Krai 2010 1
  44. Novosibirsk region 2008 3
  45. Republic of Tyva 2002 3
VIII. Far East     
  46. Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) 2009 2
  47. Magadan region 2007 3
  48. Chukotka region 2007 3

*Category: 1 - endangered; 2 - reduced population; 3 – rare

Map of the regions shown in Table 1, coloured red where otters are listed in the regional Red Book (south west and east) , blue where hunting is permitted (central west and far east) and clear where no quota permits were issued (north central). Click for larger version.
Figure 2. The otter status in regions of Russia. Regions of Russia where Eurasian otter listed in regional Red Data Books (red), otter as a hunting object (blue), no quota permits were issued (not painted). (click for larger version)


As estimated by experts, the otter population in Russia in the 1930‑1940s was 80,000–100,000 individuals (Rozhnov and Tumanov, 1996). The only All-Russian census of otters was organized and performed in 1987 using the unified procedure ("The Methodological Guidelines for census of Otters and Minks", 1983) approved by the Main Administration of Hunting and Reserves of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialistic Republic (the name of the Russian Federation till December 25, 1991, part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

From this, the otter population in Russia was estimated to be 60,000 individuals at that time (Nazarov et al., 1990). According to the data reported by the Control Information Analytical Center of Game Animals and Their Habitats (CentrOkhotKontrol), the otter population in Russia ranged from 60,000-78,000 individuals. During the subsequent two decades, the inventory of the otter using the approved procedure was performed occasionally in some entities of the Russian Federation. In 1991–1995 (5 years), the otter population in Russia had declined by 13%, from 60,400 to 52,600 animals. The greatest decline (17.5%) was observed in the Russian Far East where overhunting stress was the strongest (Lomanova, 1996).

According to the estimates made by the State Science Institution Zhitkov Russian Science and Research Institute of Hunting and Animal Breeding (Kirov Russia), the otter population in the early 2000s remained at the level of 60,000 individuals (Grevtsev, 2007) while according to the 2003 reports by the Control Information Analytical Center of Game Animals and Their Habitats, it was over 70,000. The total otter population in Russia, as estimated by the staff of the Control Information Analytical Center of Game Animals and Their Habitats in autumn 2010, was 75,000–80,000 individuals (Lomanova, 2011). The average perennial number of otter population in Russia is 60,000 individuals (Makarov et al., 2012). Currently, most of the species population is concentrated in two federal districts: the Northwestern (38% of individuals) and Far Eastern ones (22% of individuals).

The population of the Caucasian otter (L. l. meridionalis) is less than 600-700 individuals (Tumanov, 2009), although more than 1100 animals were reported by the Control Information Analytical Center of Game Animals and Their Habitats (Lomanova, 2011).

Currently, data on the number of otters in Russia is just an expert evaluation. They do not reflect an objective number, and at best the data are reflecting a current trend of change in numbers. This is due to the lack of real existing mechanisms of governance and oversight in game management of Russia (high cost of censuses and lack of demand for otter fur).

The total number of the subspecies L. l lutra in Kazakhstan is about 100 individuals. Is the object of hunt and the estimated number for the East Kazakhstan region was down to 10 individuals in 2007 (Berber, 2008).

The otter population in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia appears to have been increasing recently (Berber, 2008; Volokh, Rozhenko, 2009; Shaimardanov, Lobachev, Yu, 2010; Lomanova, 2011).

Acknowledgements: We are grateful to Dr. Paul Yoxon (Head of Operations International Otter Survival Fund) for his kind revision of the English language and for giving valuable comments on the manuscript.


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Revenez au dessus

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Vuelva a la tapa

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