If you drop dead and it turns out you have to be reincarnated maybe choose to come back as an otter, especially if you enjoy water sports, fish and crustaceans. Of all the animals struggling to get some modest pleasure out of life, including us dumb nuts, otters seem to have it made. They are top of the food chain in their semi-aquatic wonder world, and can eat 15% of their body weight every day and still keep fit and trim – you try tucking in to six or seven kilos of your favourite foods and see what happens.
What’s more they are so well adapted to their eco-niche that they don’t have to spend the whole damned day at the office trying to put food on the table. They are intelligent animals and there’s plenty of time for high jinks or just plain lounging around. If you were an otter in the Tsitsikamma you could lie on a rock, concealed in the shade, maybe munching a crab, and watch human hikers puffing and panting against the clock with their 50kg packs on the - wait for it - Otter Trail. I’ll leave you to work out who’s got the best plan.
All you need to be a happy otter is a lake or running river, preferably one which doesn’t have Homo sapiens dumping chemicals and effluent upstream. You’d want it to be well stocked with crabs, frogs, molluscs and fish and as a bonus you may even be able to live near a river mouth, take the odd dip in the surf or potter about on the smorgasbord of the inter tidal zone. The southern and western stretches of comparatively pristine coast in South Africa with their many river estuaries are pretty much ideal, at least for now. Further north, given the pressure of human populations, things aren’t so rosy. That said the otter is still comfortably on the least endangered list and ranges through most of Africa south of the Sahara, pretty much anywhere where there is permanent water and bush, with the notable exception of the Congo Basin and the arid areas of Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape. Their species as a whole is represented on every continent except Antarctica.