How it works:
- Since a TV program in Japan in 2014, the popularity of otters has spiked leading to a boom in the number of otter cafes. However, where have the otters come from, when Japanese river otters have been extinct since 40 years ago?
- Ask any of these cafes and they will claim that their otters are legally bred and bought in Japan. However, researchers from the Japan branch of Traffic (a NGO which monitors illegal wildlife trade) have found no such evidence.
- It is believed that these otters are illegally smuggled in from Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. There, you can find baby otters for sale online and offline. These are generally poached from the wild with their parents shot, electrocuted or with their nests smoked out.
- Otters are actually classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and cross border trade is restricted under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
- Otters are also not meant to be domesticated or to be kept as pets. They thrive in large family groups (e.g. up to 20) and travel long distances in native waterways. When kept in a café, they are usually isolated, stressed out and basically confined in terrible conditions.
- The signs the otters make are clear – e.g. making whimpering or shrieking sounds when being handled by customers, being kept in kept in a small cage with no access to water and/or with no natural light, biting claws and exhibiting traumatizing behavior.
- You may also notice that some otters may not have teeth – these have been cut or removed to prevent the otter from biting customers.
- An in-depth investigative documentary was also done by Aaron Gekoski and Will-Foster Grundy for World Animal Protection, check it out below:
Places to beware:
- Tokyo (most cafes are here)
What to do:
- The whole trade is really part of a complex network with multiple parties (e.g. farmers, hunters, collectors, dealers, enforcement agencies, and transportation operatives).
- As an individual, what you can do is to raise awareness.