Wild otters are the latest exotic pet trend

The market for these poached animals is booming in Southeast Asia.

Editor’s note: On August 25 and 26, the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties voted to list the Asian small-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter on Appendix I, effectively banning international commercial trade in both species. Read more about the decisions here.

She goes for walks on a leash. She sleeps in a bed, plays with a ball, and clings onto her stuffed animal toy. This pet isn’t a dog or a cat or a rabbit or a hamster. She’s a small-clawed otter, an Asian species that in the wild hunts for fish and crustaceans and frolics in streams and mangroves.

Her name is Sakura, and videos on YouTube and Twitter of her life in Japan have made her a social media sensation.

Small-clawed otters and to a lesser extent the three other otter species found in Southeast Asia—the Eurasian otter, the smooth-coated otter, and the hairy-nosed otter—have become new stars of the regional pet trade. Researchers believe that people are stealing them

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