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  • Writer's picturePaul


Otters. They’re great, aren’t they? They sleep holding hands. They look impossibly cute no matter what they’re doing (apart from eating a watermelon). And one of them was even in The Wind in the Willows. Or was that a rat? Anyway, I digress.

But just when otters couldn’t get any more awesome, you find out one more fantastic thing about them: they can be trained to herd sheep.

In 2003, a Scottish sheep farmer named Frank McNair found an orphaned baby otter at the side of a road leading onto his land in Newtonmore, Highland. Having taken it home so that his wife, the farm veterinarian, could assess it, the otter—nicknamed “Olly”—soon settled into domestic life, and before long had become an impromptu family pet.

Now a permanent fixture on the farm, Olly—along with the family’s two sheepdogs, Mabel and Georgie—would accompany Frank throughout his farming day (even if that meant sitting in his lap as he drove his tractor). And to his surprise, soon turned out to be a dab-hand at sheep herding.

An otter. Sheep just out of shot. Quite a way out of shot, probably. (Pixabay)

After several months of observing Mabel and Georgie helping Frank herd his sheep on the Cairngorm hillsides, Olly began reacting to Frank’s whistles and calls. Although not as quick as the dogs, Olly nevertheless had agility and intelligence on his side—and soon learnt enough commands to become a crack member of Frank’s sheepherding team.

So otters, then. More than just a pretty face.

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