Note: This is another part in our Activist Spotlight series, where we shine a light on Care2 members who are making a difference in their communities.
Paul Yoxon has always had an eye for things most people overlook. He grew up in the bustling city of Liverpool, but his deep affinity for nature led him to frequently escape to the countryside, where he spent many happy hours collecting fossils and rocks.
Perhaps stemming from his connection with nature, his interest in environmental activism began at a young age. When he was thirteen, he joined a Friends of the Earth campaign to protect English otters. He did not know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a passion that would span his lifetime.
Otters are semi-aquatic mammals that live all over the world, both in salty seas and freshwater streams and rivers. They are ancient creatures; otter-like animals have been playing in our world’s rivers and streams for the last 30 million years. Paul explains that they are “members of the Mustelid family, which includes badgers, polecats, martens, weasels, stoats and mink.”
Like sharks, otters sit at the top of the food chain, and their prevalence directly reflects the general health of local land and water environments. However, thanks to waterway pollution and centuries of overhunting, many species of otters are in danger. In the past 30 years, these “forgotten animals of the fur trade” have been driven to the edge of extinction.
In 1993, Paul sought to address this problem himself by setting up the International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF), based in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. IOSF’s purpose is to develop conservation programs, treat injured otters and educate the public so that “future generations can enjoy one of the world’s most charming, elusive and enjoyable mammals.” IOSF currently is involved in otter conservation projects all over the world, including Kenya, Nepal and the U.S./Canada.
IOSF’s hard work has been slowly paying off. In 2010, Britain’s Environmental Agency reported that English otters are enjoying a resurgence. Thanks to improved water quality and being classified as an endangered species, these playful creatures now number in the thousands and have slowly been spreading to many regions throughout the country.
Paul is cautiously optimistic. “Otter numbers are increasing, but only slowly,” he warns, “and the reports that otters are flooding back into areas are greatly exaggerated. Otters cannot reproduce quickly: they do not become sexually mature until about two years old, and the data indicates that the average otter lives to about six years old. The young stay with the female for 12-15 months; consequently, the females do not breed every year and may only have two litters in a lifetime.”
He continues to focus his work on otters in Asia, where human needs for sustenance and income directly clash with conservation efforts. For example, he cites a recent example of a case in which 778 otter skins were confiscated by authorities in Tibet, where a traditional garment called the chupa is popular. One chupa requires up to six otter skins. In 1998, upon hearing that the Asian hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) was very nearly extinct, IOSF leapt into action, raising funds and locating several small hairy-nosed otter populations in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and putting effective conservation measures in place.
“We continue to organize workshops in Asia to bring people together to talk and learn about otters,” he explains. “It is through education that we can get people to protect the 13 species of otter worldwide.”
Today, Paul is a member of the U.K.’s League Against Cruel Sports and the Hunt Saboteurs Association, and actively works against animal cruelty. He frequently visits Care2 so that he can connect with other people who are making a difference. “Care2 [is an] excellent and vibrant site for people who care and make waves in this world we live in,” he says, “and that’s why I will always come back.”
Thank you, Paul, for making such a positive change!