Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler found two otters dead on State Avenue in Bonner Springs Sunday.
The grim discovery offered a reminder that, while not often seen, the semiaquatic mammals do live in the Kansas City region. But their history here is complicated by the destructive influence of humans and their presence now is due to later conservation efforts.
Zeigler came upon the bodies lying along the road west of Kansas 7, on his way to the feed store, and posted a photo to Twitter. He remarked that it was unusual to see otters in the area.
The police chief said it saddened him to find the animals dead, and he supposed that they had been killed trying to cross State Avenue.
In fact, river otters once lived along all major rivers and streams across Kansas until trapping and agricultural development eradicated them from the state by 1904, according to the Kansas Wildlife Federation.
In the 1980s, 19 river otters from Idaho and Massachusetts were reintroduced on the South Fork Cottonwood River in Chase County. There followed multiple reintroductions of otters from Missouri, where similar efforts had met with success. By 2000, large populations of otters lived in Kansas once again.
In 2008, the Lawrence Journal-World reported the first sighting of a river otter in Douglas County in 100 years.
Otters now can be found in eastern Kansas along portions of the Cottonwood, Neosho, Spring, Marmaton, Marais des Cygnes, Delaware, Kansas and Missouri rivers.
If they are not often seen, it may be partly because otters — members of the weasel family — are mostly active after sundown.
And their presence here is conditional: otters are sensitive to water pollution, including the effects of mercury and other toxins. The Kansas Wildlife Federation credits the Clean Water Act with making rivers liveble for the critters, but small wetlands and streams may be vulnerable to pollution.