Otters are playful and their element is water.  Here Gavin Maxwell’s companion Mij, having figured out where the bathroom is, slips between his human handler’s legs and makes a dash for the source of water.

By the time I had caught up with him he was up on the end of the bath and fumbling at the chromium taps with his paws. I watched, amazed by this early exhibition of intelligence I had not yet guessed; in less than a minute he had turned the tap far enough to produce a dribble of water, and, after a moment or two of distraction at his success, achieved the full flow. (He had, in fact, been fortunate to turn the tap the right way; on subsequent occasions he would as often as not try with great violence to screw it up still tighter, chittering with irritation and disappointment at its failure to cooperate.)

Other examples of otter play include Mij’s delight in random objects, his clever use of ping-pong balls (and the physics behind them).  Williamson’s Tarka demonstrated the same traits, playing with other otters, or with any passing object, and generally showing his ‘mastery of whilpools’.

One element of Maxwell’s book is discomfiting – his love of otters leads him to remove two of them from their wild habitat and more or less make pets of them.  While this allows a good deal of up-close insight and interaction, it feels self-indulgent.

For another view of otters, drawing on intimate observation of them in the wild, see Williamson’s exquisite Tarka, one of our ‘bestellar’ books celebrated on our sister site.  While Williamson had an otter at home for a while, it was one he rescued injured in a trap, and nursed back to health. Once healthy, it disappeared, to his distress; that said, to his credit, he didn’t try to replace it with another.

Source: Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 86.

Photo credit: No-longer-here at pixabay


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