The Daily Telegraph

Otters as big as lions roamed Africa alongside early humans

- By Will Brown

OTTERS the size of lions once stalked the plains of Africa, eating other land animals and possibly even early humans, scientists have said.

“Giant Omo”, named for the Ethiopian valley in which it was discovered, lived some 2.5 to 3.5million years ago and weighed at least 31 stone (200kg), about 20 times the size of the Eurasian otter found in Britain today.

Previously it had been thought that other species of prehistori­c large otter were semi-aquatic, feeding off life common in African waterways such as turtles, crocodiles and catfish.

But after analysing particles in “massive” fossilised otter teeth, scientists believe the animals were not aquatic and instead probably preferred to hunt their game out in the open.

“The peculiar thing, in addition to its massive size, is that [isotopes] in its teeth suggest it was not aquatic, like all modern otters,” said study coauthor Kevin Uno, a geochemist at the Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-doherty Earth Observator­y.

“We found that it had a diet of terrestria­l animals, also differing from modern otters,” the geochemist added. It is unclear whether or not the creatures killed and ate humans, who were less than 5ft tall at the time.

The newly discovered species has been named Enhydriodo­n omoensis, after south western Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, where the bones were discovered, and has been called “giant Omo” for short.

The team based the body mass estimates on the dimensions of the animals’ teeth and femur bone.

The research was led by Camille Grohé, of the University of Poitiers in France, and published in the French scientific journal Comptes Rendus Palevol.

The paper noted that the otters’ eventual extinction could be linked to the “incursion of early hominins into the carnivore guild.”

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