The legend of the Kiwi Otter
Despite the fact that no one has ever found a skeleton, the legend of the New Zealand otter persists, particularly in the back country of Southland. In her book New Zealand Mysteries, Robin Gossett has collected a wealth of anecdotes from witnesses, including Maori traditions of a small otter like animal called the waitoreke.
Some of the European sightings are easy to explain as small seals or large rats, while others test the imagination, such as an account of eating a waitoreke while out eeling with Maori on the Waiau River in Southland.
The European records begin with Captain James Cook who anchored in Pickersgill Harbour at Dusky Sound, Fiordland, aboard the Resolution on his third voyage here in 1773. Cook observed that for 3-4 days while they set up tents ashore, several people saw a four-footed animal about the size of a cat, with short legs and a mousy colour. Beyond that none could agree on a description.
The two naturalists of the expedition, father and son J.R. and George Forster, were not convinced, suggesting one sighting was simply the ship’s cat hunting birds. New Zealand has only two land native animals, both tiny bats. Our isolation from other land masses began in the age of dinosaurs, and land mammals simply did not evolve here.
Follow the evidence in New Zealand Mysteries by Robin (Jenkins) Gosset, Bernard Heuvelman dismissed the possibility of a native otter in his book On the track of unknown animals with a chapter entitled ‘Waitoreke. The Impossible New Zealand Mammal’