If you spent a good amount of time studying, photographing, and protecting otters in the wild, how long do you think it would be before you saw an albino one?
Try more like 40.
Hans Ring is one of Sweden’s top wildlife photographers. He first began studying otters in the middle and southern parts of his country in the 1970s as they were nearing local extinction. During the ’80s, he was part of the rehabilitation efforts that brought them back. He now takes part in otter inventories every year.
For the past five years, he’s been focused on one 30-mile (45-km) stretch of small rivers and streams that empty into the Baltic Sea from Sodermanland. The otter population here has risen to 10-12 individuals, but one of them really stands out from the rest.
Here’s what Hans had to say about their meeting.
What were your thoughts on first seeing the albino otter?
When I observed the albino otter I was sitting in my hide. The normal-colored otter came swimming in the small river just 13 meters (42 feet) from my hide. ‘What is following her? Roots of water lilies? NO, IT’S AN ALBINO OTTER !!!’ I realized at once that this was something extraordinary!
Do we know if the otter is male or female, or how old it is?
The albino otter is a male. You can see that the male otter is broader in his face than the female otter. He’s at least three years old, as he was courting a female.
Does he seem to be acting just like all the other otters, or does he have any unique behaviors or preferences?
He behaves as a normal otter, but it is a disadvantage to be an albino, as they can go blind after some years since the retina doesn’t protect as well against UV-light. But as otters live a good part of their lives in water, they get some protection against UV-light.
Otters seem to be so quick and elusive. How do you go about photographing them?
To have a chance to photograph otters you have to learn to know their rhythm of the day. And you need to hide yourself. I have always tried to capture the animal’s behavior in its natural life and environment, more than just get a picture of how the animal looks.
Was this just a lucky sighting, or is the white otter well known by the people who live near it?
It was a fantastic lucky occasion that I have never experienced before. A woman living nearby the place where the pictures were taken phoned and told that she has observed two otters together and that one of them was lighter. But she was not sure because she had seen them from a long distance. As she gave me the time of the day when the otters had been seen, it helped me to recognize these otter’s daily rhythm of activity.
In your long career as a nature photographer, what are some of the other unusual appearances or behaviors you’ve witnessed?
Well, I have followed so many individuals of animals, that I have realized that they are nearly as you and me.
One of my greatest meetings was with otters, when I watched a male otter and a female otter performing their most fascinating water dance for mating. I was sitting there still for an hour and understood that I probably never in my life will see this again. It was so beautiful!
I have also met wolves, bears, lynxes, foxes, moose, red deer, and much more in Sweden, plus leopards in Sri Lanka and jaguars in Costa Rica. The meetings with all the wild animals in their natural life and environment have made my life so rich. In August I’m going to visit the Okavango delta in Botswana for studying lions, wild African dogs, and more.
I also, beside the otters, have a special close feeling to and experiences with moose in Sweden, and have followed many moose individuals. I’m just now writing a book about moose, their way of living and their natural historical background.
Finally, do you know how the albino otter is doing now?
The pictures were taken last year, (Jan-Feb 2015) and the albino otter was not known or seen by anyone before (besides the woman from distance). This past winter I tried to come in contact with him again, but it’s difficult as we did not have any snow (that means fewer tracks) and the water level was low (that means that the otters stay more in the lakes than in the small rivers and are therefore more difficult to observe).
But I got the information from another private person living along another water system nearby the first water system, that the white otter probably was observed in November 2015 at a place about 18 km (11 miles) from where I took my photographs of him.