Fragmentation of communities, losses of habitat are posing threats to otters in Israel.

Members of Israel’s otter population are facing grave endangerment due to the fragmentation of their communities and losses of habitat, a survey conducted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority found.

Examining 106 sites found in the Hula Valley, the Jordan River highlands, the Golan Heights, the Lake Kinneret basin, the Jordan Valley, the Harod Valley and the Beit She’an Valley, the study demonstrated what SPNI described as an “alarming trend of decline in population size.”

Even in areas that still contain a stable otter population, such as those in the Hula Valley and the Jordan River highlands, there were approximately 9 percent fewer otters in 2014 than in 2013, the survey showed.

For the first time since 2000, there were no signs of otters in the Golan Heights, according to the study. The Lake Kinneret basin and the Jordan Valley sites showed a sharp drop of 18% in otter presence, while the Harod and Beit She’an valleys showed no detectable signs of otters for the third year in a row. The Jezreel and Zevulun valleys lacked otters for the fourth consecutive year, the report said.

“Otters prey upon the food web of moist habitats, and the presence of otters in an ecosystem is an important indicator of the health of the system and its biodiversity,” said the report’s authors, Shmulik Yedvab and Roni Shachal from SPNI and Amit Dolev from the INPA .

Until the early 20th century, otters were very common along all the coastal rivers, from the Lebanese border through the Sorek basin, and along the Jordan River basin, from its sources through the Dead Sea, the authors explained.

“In recent decades the condition of otters and their distribution worsened dramatically, and therefore they are defined as a critically endangered species in Israel,” they said.

As a result of their findings, the authors recommended that a number of steps be taken in parallel to prevent the disappearance of the otters. They suggested establishing a breeding nucleus to recover the populations, working to restore ecological corridors that connect otter communities, restoring abandoned bodies of water and transforming wetland habitats for the good of the otter population.