Otter Book Reviews
Books are listed in order of publishing date
"Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter" by
Miriam Darlington, 2012, Granta Books, ISBN-10 1847084850, ISBN-13 978-1847084859
This is not a book - this is a love poem to otters, the countryside and the seasons. Lyrically written, it is also factually accurate, which is an uncommon combination. Anyone who has any connection at all to the natural world will be struck by the deep truths in this book, and the author has a knack of seeing through an otter's eyes. I loved this book. Some of the Amazon reviews are entitled "Believe the hype" and "spine tingling". I completely agree. Buy this book now!
02/05/2013: Now available in paperback as well
Available from Amazon
Particular Otter" by Daphne Neville and Ken Jackson, assisted by
Bee. Recorded 1982.
A recording based on Daphne's book of the same name, now out of print. At home with Daphne, and Bee, her first otter, where Daphne reads short (true) stories about Bee from her book. My favourite is Bee and the Omelette. This tape is currently available from Sounds Natural
Bee is back in print! To purchase a copy of the book, which is published by Windmill Print & Graphics in Stroud, contact Daphne on 01285 760234, or go to Amazon
This is a great book for children, and has the advantage that all the stories are true! It recounts Bee meeting royalty, Bee going to school, Bee and the Law and lots of other incidents.
- "Tarka and Me" by
Peter Talbot, 2011, Pambazuku
The true story of how a nineteen year old boy became an otter trainer and handler for the film Tarka the Otter. As he says, "it was like going for a job making the tea at NASA and being asked if you'd take the next flight to the moon"! Honest, engaging and well-written, this is a very good ebook. It would be very nice if a publisher took it up and made it a hardback with colour pictures as well.
Available from Amazon (Kindle)
- "Otters" by
Gareth Da'Bell, 2011, Blurb
This book is required reading for anyone who works with otters in captivity. It describes how an experienced behavioural therapist worked with two Asian Small-Clawed Otters regarded as savage and dangerous, and by a combination of correct nutrition, enrichment and positive operand conditioning (like clicker training), turned them into happy, healthy animals which were a joy to work with, safe to work around and a great attraction to the paying customers at the animal attraction. Sadly, his efforts were not appreciated. It also describes his own otter, Oscar, who had become homeless when a former owner had to leave the country.
This is also a visually very attractive book which would make a superb present for any otter lover.
Available from Blurb
- "Otter" by
Daniel Allen, 2010, Reaktion Books, ISBN-13: 978-1861897671
This is a scholarly, well-researched book covering an important gap in current otter literature - the socio-economic history of otters i.e. Otters and Man. Full of surpises, it surveys otters in history, otter hunting, otters in literature and the media, and many other areas where there is little generally available information. Written in a very readable style, with lots of pictures, this is a very useful and reliable book, with full reference lists, and will be an invaluable resource for otter workers.
Available from Amazon
- "Otters" by
James Williams, 2010, Merlin Unwin Books, ISBN-13: 978-1906122225
The author has been involved with otters all his life, and now leads the Somerset Otter Group, a well-respected network of local people who record and study otters in Somerset. This book is a personal account of otters, illustrated with anecdotes and highlighting where experience disagrees with the published literature, and therefore very useful on that account alone. It is also extremely readable and accessible to anyone with any interest in natural history.
Available from Amazon
- Otters: an Artist's
Sketchbook" by Derek Robertson, 2010,
Woodlands Studios, ISBN-13:978-0953932412
This short book is a collection of paintings and sketches of otters made by the author over the last twenty years of otter-watching. It is very attractive, and the paintings are full of character..
Available from the IOSF website
- "Otters in
Britain" by Paul & Grace Yoxon, IOSF, 2004.
A terrific booklet from the IOSF which summarises current knowledge about the Eurasian Otter, written by people who have devoted the last twenty years to the conservation, rescue and rehabilitation of otters in Scotland, and supported conservation work with various otter species abroad. This is probably the best book for someone new to otters to buy, to cover all the basics in a very accessible manner. Available from the Otter Shop at the IOSF website; at least 50% of the modest price goes directly into otter conservation.
- "The Otter
Among Us" by James Williams, Tiercel Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0
9532 0022 1.
The author is Chairman of the Somerset Wildlife Group's Otter Group, and is assisting with Paul Chanin's study of otter populations using DNA. A hopeful account of the otter today from a refreshingly practical point of view. The author does not find that otters need complete isolation from all human activity to thrive - if the rest of the riverine habitat is suitable, they will live unconcernedly alongside us. The key is a healthy ecosystem, which is why otters are a key indicator species. He finds that restoration and maintenance of the same kind of riverbank conditions that favour watervoles and all kinds of other aquatic animals benefits otters far more than the building of artificial holts. An interesting book. Currently in print and available from Amazon, Blackwells etc.
- "Wild Otters :
Predation and Populations" by Hans Kruuk, Oxford University
Press, 1995. ISBN 0 1985 4070 1
This is a real classic if you want to know the truth about Eurasian Otters on the Shetland Islands.! It's quite pricy (around 50), but still in print via the OUP's short print run service. I got mine from Blackwells Online and I wouldn't be without it. It's a good read as well as a reference book - I was blown away by the holts with underground bathrooms and latrines, and by the reed-ball natal holt (like a giant harvest mouse nest!).
by Bobby Tulloch, Colin Baxter, 1994. ISBN 1 8410 7009 2.
The late Bobby Tulloch's account of living and working among otters in the Shetlands, this book is beautifully illustrated with his own photographs. Currently in print, available from Amazon, Blackwells etc.
- "Otters" by
Paul Chanin, Whittet Books, 1993. ISBN 0 9054 8390 1.
My first otter book! Very readable with great illustrations and cute cartoon otters. Costs under 10. Good reference list too. Some detail is now outdated, but a useful place to start. This book is available from Blackwells and Amazon, and also from the shop at the New Forest Otters, Owls and Wildlife Park.
- "You Call That a
Farm? Raising Otters, Leeches, Weeds and Other Unusual Things" by
Sam and Beryl Epstein, Farrar Straus Giroux New York, 1991. ISBN 0
3743 8705 2
Only the first chapter of this book for children is about Otters, but it is interesting. The authors visited the Bayou Otter Farm in Louisiana, run by the Sevin family. Otters raised here have gone all over America to restock wild populations, as well as to zoos and private keepers - Glenn and Jeannie Chambers, of Otter Chaos fame, got their otter ambassadors for Missouri from here. The story follows Lee Roy Sevin from young otter trapper to nationally famed otter breeder and vital resource in the effort to return the North American River Otter to states from which it has been driven out.
Out of print - I obtained my copy from Alibris.com, and the Barnes and Noble website also has copies for sale in their out of print section.
- "The Track of the
Wild Otter" by Hugh Miles, Colin Baxter Photography, 1989. ISBN 0
948661 06 2
Hugh Miles made two films on Shetland about otters for the BBC, and this book is the story of the otters he came to know. Marvellous photographs of course, and superb drawings that capture the character of otters. The book gives a portrait of both the otters and the land they live in. An excellent book.
Out of print - I bought mine from Abebooks.com. Videos of the television programmes sometimes appear on Ebay.
- "The Natural
History of Otters" by Paul Chanin, Croom Helm Ltd, 1985. ISBN 0
7099 3401 7 (Hbk) 0 7099 3460 2 (Pbk)
Paul Chanin's first otter book makes very interesting reading, complementing Kruuk and Harris above. Some of the detail has been overtaken by subsequent research, but this book is still a standard reference, quoted by many other works. Out of print (I got my copy from Exedra, and it was expensive), but worth looking for on Amazon ZShops and so on.
- "The River
Wolf" by Keith and Liz Laidler, Allen & Unwin, 1983.
An account of three years spent studying the Giant Otter in Guyana for Liz Laidler's PhD. They observed the behaviour and ecology of this species, identfying and following the lives of individual animals. During this time they also adopted a Neotropical Otter, Niblet, and his rearing and eventual self-organized return to the wild is interspersed throughout the book. This is one of the standard texts on Giant Otters, and is also an enjoyable book.
- "The Otter in
Britain" by Liz Laidler, David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd,
1982. ISBN 0-7153-8069-9.
Five years after otters were protected and otter hunting banned, Liz Laidler reviews the natural history of the otter in Britain, the changing attitudes towards otters, threats facing them and progress made. Like her book on the Giant Otter, it is both scholarly and attractive to the general reader. The chapter on otters in captivity is particularly interesting, as is the section on surveying for otter distribution and the result of the 1980 Otter Survey, and practical conservation measures are described in detail. There are lots of excellent photographs and illustrations.
- "Tarkina the
Otter" by John Goldsmith, Pelham Books, 1981. ISBN 0 7207 1292 0
Written for children, this book tells the true story of an orphaned female otter cub from Skye, her rescue and rearing by naturalist Grahame Dangerfield and her starring role in the film "Tarka the Otter" playing Tarka as a cub. A sweet book, with photographs and charming illustrations. Out of print - I found mine on Amazon zShops. It is interesting to read this along with the Tarka and Me website, which tells the story of Spade, the otter that played Tarka as an adult.
- "The Otter in
Britain" by Peter J. Neville Havins, Robert Hale Ltd, 1981. ISBN
Another account of the status and natural history of the otter in Britain around five years after legal protection and the cessation of otter hunting. A competent book, but very down-beat in tone, seeing little hope for the future, which contrasts markedly with Laidler's "The Otter in Britain" published the following year.
- "The Private Life of
the Otter" by Philip Wayre, Batsford, 1979. ISBN 0 7134 0833 2.
Another part of my second-hand book haul, this surveys the state of knowledge of the Eurasian Otter at the time. It contains lots of good photographs, mostly taken by the author as he swam with his otters in scuba gear (the author, not the otters!). This often appears on Ebay.
- "Stinkerbelle, the
Nark" by Marna Fyson, Taplinger Publishing Con Inc (New York),
1976. ISBN 0 8008 7421 8
This is the story of a hectic year in London, during which the author tried to find a permanent home for the little animal that she and her husband had rescued from a Bangkok market stall three years before, who stubbornly refused to go back to the wild. Living conveniently close to Richmond Park, the author tells of walking with Stinkerbelle, living with Stinkerbelle and waiting on Stinkerbelle paw and foot. After a couple of false starts, the story ends happily for all concerned. A nice book, upbeat for once, with lots of cute photos and funny incidents - it illustrates the fact that otters are only suitable pets for a certain kind of person. This work is out of print - I obtained my copy via Amazon Z-Shops.
- "Our Unknown
Wildlife: The Otter" by Ernest Dudley, Frederick Muller Ltd:
London, 1976. ISBN 0 584 63740 3
It is a great pity that this short book is out of print as it is an excellent summary of the appearance, skeletal anatomy and habits of the Eurasian Otter. Well-illustrated with photographs and drawings, this book is an ideal introduction to this animal.
Out of print - I bought mine from Ebay.
- "The River
People" by Philip Wayre, Collins & Harvil Press, 1976. ISBN 0
0026 2609 8.
An account of Philip Wayre's early years with otters and the founding of the Otter Trust, including his journeys in Malaysia. Not currently in print - I got my copy as part of a fine (and inexpensive) otter book haul from a local second-hand bookshop. It often appears on Ebay.
- "The Declining
Otter: a Guide to its Conservation" by Angela King, John Ottaway
and Angela Potter, Friends of the Earth Otter Campaign, 1976.
A short book or long booklet published at the nadir of otter numbers in the UK, as art of the Friends of the Earth campaign to get the otter protected, and otter hunting brought to an end. As well as an account of the otter in Britain, the book contains a useful section on otters and man, tracing the development of the view of otters as vermin and the 'sport' of otter hunting at a time when there were nine active packs of otter hounds in England. A useful book for anyone interested in changing attitudes to otters in England, but also a practical resource for those working in countries where otters are still considered pests. I bought my copy from Ebay.
- "The World of the
Otter" by Ed Park, J.B. Lippincot Company, 1971.
A superb account of the North American River Otter, and what was known of its behaviour, life cycle and distribution at the time, with an excellent bibliography and marvellous photographs. The author extensively observed wild otters, and knew many people with pet otters: his love of these animals is evident throughout the book, which is quite scholarly for a popular account. Not in print, and hard to come by - Abebooks.com was the source of my copy but it was expensive (though well worth it).
- "Beever and
Company" by J.A. Davis, Harper & Row, 1969.
A delightful book by the author of "Samaki", covering his otter ownership up to and including the original Samaki. Sadly, most of the otters died young because of the general ignorance and in many cases, lack of care (though not on Mr Davis' part) of those involved in the capture and handling of the animals. In particular, Mr Davis was one of the first to realise the susceptibility of otters to feline and canine diseases, particularly feline enteritis. The book is charmingly illustrated by the author. It is out of print - I obtained my copy via Amazon Z-Shops, but I have seen in on Ebay.
- "The Rocks
Remain" by Gavin Maxwell, Harper & Row, 1969.
Often considered the sequel to "Ring of Bright Water", this book continues the story of Edal, Teko and other otters, along with interludes in Morocco, where the author was writing "The Lords of the Atlas", his marriage, the crash of his Mercedes car in Majorca, and Teko's narrow escape from fire resulting from the kitchen exploding! I enjoyed this book very much. This work is out of print as a separate book - I obtained my copy via Amazon Z-Shops - but forms part of the "Ring of Bright Water Trilogy" published by Puffin Books: ISBN: 0141308079, available from Amazon.
- "Raven Seek
Thy Brother" by Gavin Maxwell, Harper & Row, 1969. ISBN 5821
The real sequel to "Ring of Bright Water", this book tells the real story behind the events in "The Rocks Remain". This contains mainy of the incidents, and indeed long quotes from Maxwell's previous books, "A Harpoon at a Venture", "The House of Elrig" and "A Reed Shaken by the Wind", and it is these that the happier elements lie. The Camusfearna episodes are of almost unrelieved tragedy, and even the final reconciliation between Maxwell, Edal and Teko is soured by the knowledge that although they had to be kept in "near-zoo conditions" for the previous five years (because of unprovoked attacks on strangers), they had also been denied Maxwell's company, which I found almost unbearable. This work is out of print as a separate book - I obtained my copy via Amazon Z-Shops - but forms part of the "Ring of Bright Water Trilogy" published by Puffin Books: ISBN: 0141308079, available from Amazon.
- "Otters : A Study
of the Recent Lutrinae" by CJ Harris, Weidenfeld & Nicholson
A little elderly now, but full of good stuff. Definitely out of print - I got my copy via the Blackwells Out-of-Print partner, Exedra, but it was expensive. I have also seen it on Abebooks.com. It would be available from the British Library on interlibrary loan from your local public library I should think. This is a very interesting book, with lots of reference material and a large and useful bibliography. Anyone serious about otters ought to have a copy of this book.
- "An Otter in the
House: the Story of Okee" by Dorothy Wisbeski, Methuen, 1964.
This is the extraordinary story of a woman and her husband who decided to keep a neotropical otter in their suburban home in the days when such an animal could simply be ordered from the pet shop. Organized otter husbandry was plainly in its infancy, judging from the mortality rate of otter cubs in the zoos mentioned. She seems to have undertaken this in almost complete ignorance of the animal's needs, but since the 'experts' and vets seem to know no more, her trial-and-error approach was the only way to go! An amusing and touching tale, with one tragedy and a near-fatal illness that today would be foreseen and avoided. Sadly, Mrs Wisbeski died in 2001. Out of print - I found my copy on Amazon zShops, fairly inexpensively.
- "Otter in our
Parlour" by Morna Eyres, 1963.
Morna and her family were adopted by a Cape Clawless Otter called Oswald. This book, well-illustrated with black and white photos, tells his tale, ending in his sad death at the hands of local people.
Out of print - I bought mine from Abebooks.
- "Watch for the
Otter" by Elaine Hurrell, Country Life, London, 1963.
From 1958 - 1961, the whole Hurrell family watched for otters on Dartmoor. They received the tame otter Turvy, from Ernest Neal and introduced him to swimming, and also received the second Topsy for the same reason. Topsy escaped and is thought to have survived in the wild for some time, although the presence of regular otter hunters made her early demise likely. Turvy also escaped but sadly was killed by a butcher at the request of a worried householder seeing an otter in her garden. The book contains excellent accounts of how to watch for otters, and anecdotes from magazines of the nineteenth century about tame otters. There is also a photograph of Emil Liers and some of his many pet otters in Minnesota.
- "Topsy & Turvy,
My Two Otters" by Ernest G. Neal, Heinemann: London, 1961.
This is the tale of an English school teacher who found himself foster father to two orphan Eurasian Otter cubs. The short book charts the practicalities of raising cubs through their first year of life, until their eventual choice to return to the wild. Illustrated with the author's own photographs, this is a delightful book.
Out of print - I bought mine from Abebooks.com..
- "Ring of Bright
Water" by Gavin Maxwell, first published Longmans Green, 1960. My
copy is Penguin, ISBN 0 1400 3923 6.
The famous classic which needs no introduction to otter-lovers. A beautiful and poetic account of life with otters in the Western Highlands by one of the great travellers, who also passed amongst the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq (another fascinating book). Tragic and moving, funny, gentle and vivid, this book is justly famous. Many people think that Maxwell was the only person to keep pet otters, or that he set the standard - a brief glance at this list will show that neither is the case. It does portray the keeping of a specific set of otters by a man from a particular time and social class.
Review in The Hindu
- "Ingo, My
Otter" by Walter Von Sanden, 1959. Longmans, Green and Co.
The von Sanden family, living in Germany, found themselves owning Ingo, a native Eurasian Otter. The book tells of how they adapted their home and lifestyle to Ingo's needs, and for once, does not end unhappily!
Out of print - I bought mine from Alibris..
- "The Otter
Book" by Phyllis Kelway Collins, Wm Collins & Co Ltd, 1944.
This is a marvellous book and it is incredible that it is not better known. Beautifully written and deeply moving, it tells of an otter hunter's damascene conversion, and adoption of an otter called Juggles, at a time when every man's hand was turned against otters by gun, trap, dog and poison. Although the human characters are fictional, the author had the original Juggles as a pet, and the book is illustrated with line drawings and photographs. Get a copy of this immediately! I found mine on Barnes and Noble out of print books website, but it also often appears on Ebay, quite inexpensively.
- "Moses, My
Otter" by Frances Pitt, Arrowsmith, 1927.
Written by a young woman living on a farm in the twenties, this tells how she took it into her head to keep otters at a time when keepers killed them on sight. A delightful account of "Madam Moses the Otter and her sister Aaron; of Thomas Romeo Grievous Otter and of their friend Tiny the Terrier". Definitely out of print - I found mine via Amazon zShops, quite inexpensively. It occasionally appears on Ebay
- "The Book of the
Otter" by Richard Clapham, Heath Cranton Ltd, 1922.
A book about otter hunting by an enthusiastic otter hunter. My copy, which I found in a second-hand bookshop, also contains newspaper clippings on successful hunts. The natural history is interesting and accurate for its time, and there are useful photographs. The rest of the book may serve to give an insight into the minds of people who derive entertainment from pursuing and killing otters, which may be of service for those trying to conserve otters in countries where, whatever the legal position, many people still regard killing otters as sport.
- "A Private
Sort of Life" by Bridget MacCaskill, Whittles: Latheronwheel,
2002. ISBN 1 870325 82 6
The fictionalised account of two otters from birth to adulthood, this beautifully illustrated book is based on observations in the wild. Being a British animal book, there is the inevitable tragedy toward the end.
In print - I bought mine from the IOSF Otter Shop.
by David Chaffe, Stormforce Publications, 1999. ISBN 0 9534 6760 0.
I love this book. It is the partially fictionalized account of the rescue of a tiny orphan otter, and how the author brought her up to be an ambassador for otters everywhere. An emotionally uplifting tale that leaves you happier and more optimistic for the otter's future. I bought my copy at the Buckfast Butterfly and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary, but it is also currently available from Amazon, Blackwells etc.
- "A Travelling
Otter" by Ian Saint-Barbe Anderson, Lutterworth Press, 1985. ISBN
0 7188 2622 1
A sequel to "A Tangle of Otters", this tells the story of one of the cubs from the previous book through adolescence, as he sets out to find a new territory and mate. Well written with nice illustrations.
Out of print - currently available on Amazon zShops and Alibris.com.
- "Samaki, the Story
of an Otter in Africa" by J.A. Davis, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1979.
ISBN 0 7181 1793 X
A novel tracing the life story of Samaki, a Spotted-Necked Otter, in Tanzania. it is based on the author's own research - he studied these otters in the wild, and kept them in captivity as Curator of Mammals at New York and Chicago, and was a friend of Dorothy Wisbeski and Okee the Otter. The book tells of the trials of a young otter's life in an environment where the crocodile is top of the food chain and partial to young otters.
- "Picaro, a Pet
Otter" by Dorothy Wisbeski, Hawthorn Books, 1971.
A charming children's book, being an account of a day in the life of one of her pet otters, a neotropical otter cub. Beautifully illustrated from life. I got mine from Amazon zShops but it was expensive (presumably because childrens' books are collectables).
- "Sleeky the
Otter" by Rhoda Leonard and William S. Briscoe, Field Educational
Publications Inc, 1964.
The story of an otter's life, intended as a teaching aid. Well-researched and written, and attractively illustrated, with questions for teaching and otter facts at the back.
- "An Otter's Story " by
Emil E. Liers, The Junior Literary Guild and the Viking Press, 1953.
One of the few publications by a leading expert on the North American River Otter. Over his lifetime, Emil Liers had more than 90 pet otters, and observed extensively, corresponding with almost anyone interested in otters, but published very little formally. This fictionalized account of an otter's life contains anecdotes and observations from life and experience, with the dedication "To my friends the otters, with the prayer that the readers of this story may be impressed with the lovableness and intelligence of these little creatures".
- "The Wandering
Otter" by Mortimer Batten, Peter Lunn (Publishers) Ltd, London,
A rather fanciful account of the life of an otter, with striking woodcut illustrations. A nice little book, written by a leading naturalist of the day, in highly imaginative style.
- "Tarka the
Otter" by Henry Williamson, first published 1938. Many editions,
many publishers, e.g. Puffin Books, ISBN 0 1403 0060 0.
Many editions - mine is a 1941 copy with the original illustrations by CF Tunnicliffe which I found in a second hand bookshop for 50p. A classic, and one of the best arguments against otter hunting there is. It is, as the subtitle says, "An account of his joyful water-life and death" in Devon.
- "The Life
Story of an Otter" by J.G. Tregarthen, first published 1909, but
I have the second edition from 1937 which has photographs.
A fictional account of the life of an otter set in an area well known and observed by the author, from someone who was obviously both a very competent naturalist and an otter lover at a time when they were still considered vermin. Very well-written, and illustrated with photographs of tame otters belonging to (apparently) the Duchess of Bedford, and Mr J.G. Millais, but like all books from before otters were protected, containing the usual dreadful persecutions and deaths that were then the common lot of otters: the otter dies at the end of the book at the hands of otter hunters and is stuffed and mounted, a thing of joy to the children of the house. I found my copy on Abebooks.com.