Baby otters may look adorably cute, but an animal lover who has devoted over 20 years saving orphaned cubs has warned trying to tame them can be devastating.
Paul Yoxon, 60, and his wife Grace met at Keele Uni and moved from Liverpool to the Isle of Skye in 1985 and initially set up a charity to run wildlife courses and holidays.
Then they opened an animal hospital and their focus turned to helping orphaned otters and in 1993 set up the International Otter Survival Fund.
Since then Paul has saved 180 otters and has travelled to China and across Asia studying the species and educating people about the cruel fur trade.
“We have helped otters from all over the country. Usually, they have lost their mothers in road accidents and are found frightened and alone,” said Paul.
“Otters need to be with their mother until they are 13 to 14 months old, so when they come to us, we often care for them for that length of time. But human contact needs to be kept to a minimum as if they’re too tame, they can’t cope with life alone.
“The baby cubs need feeding every three hours when they are young, and progress from special milk that has very low levels of lactose in to small pieces of fish.
“When they are ready, we release them into the wild, and sometimes use radio trackers to see how they cope. Usually, they are settled and finding food for themselves in a few hours.”
Their current residents are Sofi, who was found on a caravan park in Broadford, Noelle, who was handed in at rescue kennel for dogs in Peterborough, and Ganga, who came from an animal sanctuary on the Scottish borders. All are around three months old.
The sanctuary has five staff and costs £125,000 a year to run and as well as helping otters in the UK, Paul has travelled the world finding out more about the animals.
He was part of a team who found the hairy nosed otter in Vietnam and Thailand, even though it was believed to be extinct in 1998.
Paul has hosted international conferences on Skye, bringing otter experts from all over the world to see the animals in their natural habitat.
Sadly, here in the UK, otters usually only live to six years old because of high mercury levels in the water, which they ingest through eating fish.
In other countries like the Czech Republic they can live to as long as 16.
For Paul, giving the lonely cubs the skills they need to survive in the wild is key, and he urges people to contact a sanctuary if they find an otter.
He said: “It’s really important that they don’t become tame or get too used to humans or they won’t be able to cope in the wild.
“We do become very attached to the cubs we help, but our focus is socialising the otters so we can take them back to where they belong.”
A version of this story also appears on the Mirror Online.