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The otter incident


This is a story from two years ago, about an amazing skeleton I almost got and why I didn't and how I almost got into trouble instead.

It began when me and Dad were driving to Glasgow to see Star Wars in Concert (which was awesome) when dad spotted something at the side of the road, about a mile outside the village, next to a bridge that goes over a river.  He wasn't sure what it was, so he pulled over and we went to have a look at it.

It was a furry animal, about 28 inches long with a thick tail about 10 inches long. It looked about the size of a cat but the legs were much too short. It looked like it had been hit by a car because the lower jaw was dislocated and you could tell by the position of the upper and lower canines.

Dad and I thought it might have been an otter, so when we went back home later that night we looked up about otters and found out that it probably was. I didn't have any otter bones, but I knew that the body would get moved by council workers soon if it was just left there so I tried to think of one way where it could rot down but all the bones would be together.

It was by a river so dad had an idea of putting it in a tube wrapped in mesh, and weighing it down with a stone then putting it in the river. That way it could macerate (rot in water) and I could collect the bones later. This is what the design of the OtterRotter ended up to be:

It was a brilliant design but had only one problem. It was too small for the dead otter to fit in ! So me and Dad had a think and designed the OtterRotter version 2. This was a long mesh cage which could be fastened together with cable ties and placed in a wood. The mesh lets flies in and lets dead tissue go through the holes leaving just the bones. (I used the same design later for rotting down a fox and a squirrel).

Here is the otter just before it went in,

We carried it down the road a bit to where there was a small wood, fastened up the top, and fastened it to a tree so no animals could take the cage away.

Then I covered it up with leaves so no-one knew it was there.

Then we stayed to see the horses in the field nearby, and then the real story happened !

We saw a police car pull up at the side of the road and the two police officers walked down the road one on each side as if they were looking for something. Dad went after them because he thought maybe someone had seen us in the woods and thought we were acting strangely. The police officers said they had a report of an otter by the side of the road which had been shot. Dad said that it hadn't been shot and showed them where the body was and what we were doing.

The policeman said that he had to take away the otter, and anyway while we were allowed to collect most animals in Scotland, we weren't allowed to collect otter bones because they were protected by laws. So the policeman and woman took the otter away, and we weren't allowed to keep it. The next day a man called Alan Stewart who is a famous wildlife crime officer phoned dad to explain all this, and asked questions about my collection, especially my buzzard skulls, but he said it was okay for me to keep those, as long as I could prove the animal died naturally. He was a nice man but it was all a bit scary.

It would be cool to have an otter skull, but if I got one, it would have to have been collected before 1994 which is when the law started.

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jordan said...

Hi Jake I didnt know their was a bone law :) I guess its for safety.

your friend

Esther said...

Hi Jake!
This was a really interesting read, I didn't know there were any laws about possessing bones from certain animals. I'm glad they didn't confiscate your buzzard skulls or anything. It sounds like a really scary experience! It's sad about the dead otter too. Do you think it had been hit by a car?

This reminds me of a really strange law they apparently have in America, which is that you are not allowed to possess feathers from any bird that is not a game species. I'm a feather collector and I was really surprised when I found out about this law, it seemed a bit over the top as a bird certainly doesn't have to be dead for you to find its feathers. I'm just glad I live in the UK or my whole collection would be illegal except one or two!

Rhea said...

You and your dad are very clever. Your maceration ideas are wonderful! I really enjoyed the pictures. What great set-up ideas for water and surface maceration. Thanks for sharing, and I'm glad you re-posted the story. Take care, Jake!

Jake said...

@Jordan: I think it's to protect endangered species
@Esther: I think it was hit by a car
@Rhea: thank you !

J. O'Brien said...

It's a little scary when the police show up, isn't it? Something similar happened to me, when someone thought that the coyote decomposing in my backyard was a dog! Thankfully the policeman was very understanding, and he was impressed by my skull collection, haha.

It's a shame you can't keep otter bones! I wonder if you could somehow buy a skull from the North American otter species, online.

Carol Monger said...

Hi Jake, fellow Scottish bone collector here :)

Shame about your otter!

I was just wondering if you knew if there were any other laws about which skulls/bones you can or cannot have?

Thanks, love the blog!

Jake said...

@Carol: I could maybe write a post about it. I know you can' have otters or pine martens, and you have to be able to show how birds of prey died. You have to make sure when you buy skulls from outside the UK that it's allowed under CITES too, which a law about protected species.

Ben said...

Hey Jake,
There are Natural England regulations and for several speces, you will need what's called a possession license. Alyhough this is true down here in England, I'm not sure what the specific laws are up there . . . might be worth checking with Scottish Natural Heritage. I have to get a license to cover the following (not that I have them all); shrews, all UK bats, all UK whales, dolphins and porpoises, otters (as well you now know) and martens. You also need a Defra permit for many of the birds (definitely all the raptors). With someone such as yourself, where you have such a well-documented history of legitimate collecting, you shouldn't have any problems about getting licenses. It's just to ensure that some unscrupulous collectors don't take advantage of our wildlife.

Jake said...

Hi Ben,

I've just got my first licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, and I'm going to write about it soon.

J.C. said...

Great stuff Jake! Thank you so much for sharing. I am undertaking a small bone project for the first time and your experiences and advice has been beyond helpful...outright entertaining! Thanks again!

Jester93 said...

Actually in america you can't possess any part from the bald eagle (national bird), other than that there's just variations depending on your state of what you can and can't have, thankfully where I am I can have just about anything.

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