A type of otter which is now thought to be extinct. The Maxwell's otter, Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli was native to the salt marshes of the Euphrates river in Iraq. The Maxwell's otter is a subspecies of the Indian smooth-coated otter, which has several other subspecies as well. This animal is very dark brown with slightly lighter fur on the underparts and grey on the chin.
The Maxwell's otter is named for famed naturalist and traveller Gavin Maxwell, who picked up a pet otter while travelling in Iraq in 1956. This otter, whom he named Mijbil, is one of the few specimens (the only living specimen) of this subspecies ever found. Mijbil was Maxwell's constant companion and fast friend from that time forward. Maxwell and Mij's adventures are chronicled in his classic book Ring of Bright Water.
The marshlands which were the habitat of the Maxwell's otter are a few hundred miles south of Baghdad, near the place where Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet. They have long been the home of the Ma'dan people, sometimes called "marsh Arabs." These people, about half a million in all, live by subsistence farming and manufacturing products from woven reeds. They live (or lived) in harmony with a very diverse ecosystem.
Starting in the 1950s, the Iraqi government has been diverting the river and draining the marshes, thus destroying the ecosystem and displacing the humans and animals. These efforts have been stepped up since the 1970s. The Hussein government has attempted to deny food and water to the Ma'dan people.
Shiite Muslims, the Ma'dan are spiritually closer to the Iranians than to the Iraqi establishment. Ma'dan and other Shiites have traditionally sided with Iran and against Hussein's government and have even reportedly given comfort and hiding places to anti-government factions. As a result, villages have been burned, the water supply poisoned and the program to drain the marshes was stepped up.
All of this has taken a sad and predictable toll on the salt marshes and the Maxwell's otter is thought to have become extinct in the 1960s or 1970s as a result. Pollution has also played a major role in the destruction of this area.
While these animals are presumed extinct, there are still otter colonies throughout southeastern Iran and parts of Pakistan. Some sources have reported seeing live Maxwell's otters in the early 1970s, but that may be specious. It is possible that, when and if political stability returns to this region, some surviving members of this species may be found.
Otter Joy online: http://www.otterjoy.com/OTTERINFO/LUTROGALE/PERSPICILLATA/perspicillata_geography.html