While previously labeled as a critically endangered species, the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct today(August 28) by the Ministry of the Environment, adding that one hasn’t been seen for more than 30 years. The species of otter was designated as special natural monument, as it was the first Japanese mammal to have survived until the Showa Era (1926-1989). Four other Japanese mammals, two species of bat and two species of wolf, were declared extinct during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
Belonging to the Mustelidae family, the Japanese river otter was known to be roughly 110 centimeters (43 inches) in length, and was often found in rivers throughout the country. Sadly the species’ numbers quickly dropped due to over-hunting for its fur, and the destruction of its environment by city development. The last official recognized sighting was at a river in Susaki, Kochi Prefecture, in 1979. The last Japanese river otter in captivity was kept at a zoo in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, from 1956 to 1969.
The Environment Ministry’s records of past surveys indicate that the Japanese species vanished from the northern island of Hokkaido in the 1950s, and from the main island of Honshu and other southern areas sometime in the 1990s. A professor emeritus from Kochi University, Yoshihiko Machida, still believes the otter may exist, and that the ministry made its announcement of extinction too early. Machida says that there were confirmed otter droppings found in 1999, and wants to continue his investigations to see if they might still exist.