IT was a rescue operation with added bite. An otter found shuffling up a village main street turned on its rescuers during a struggle to return the creature to water.
Farmer Joe Burke was last night making little of the bite he sustained from the otter and spoke only of his satisfaction at returning the mammal to a lake near Tulla in east Clare.
Mr Burke, from nearby Broadford, said: "The otter did bite, but it is a small superficial mark. It's only a small scrape. I'm just delighted that we were able to rescue it and return it to water."
The drama unfolded yesterday morning after the otter took a wrong turn and wound up on Tulla's main street. Mr Burke said: "I was at a shop in Tulla and I saw what I thought was an otter. I went into rescue mode, because there was a danger it might be run over by a car."
"Initially, the otter had its head in a Tayto bag and I thought it was at risk of suffocating. It was an emergency," he said.
He was joined on the rescue mission by his friend Mike Hogan, but the otter was "very aggressive".
Initially, the two men attempted to corner and trap the otter using timber pallets.
"There was a crowd gathering at this stage beside the courthouse in Tulla and we then got a canvas bag with the idea of bringing the otter out to a local lake," the farmer said.
"We put the otter into the canvas bag and tied it and put it into my jeep."
But on reaching the lake, Mr Burke discovered that the otter had disappeared.
He said: "The otter had bitten through the bag and made its way out a hole in a window in the back of the jeep."
The enterprising otter fled a quarter of a mile down the road back to Tulla, sparking a second rescue mission.
The farmer said that he finally managed to trap the otter by placing a traffic cone on top of it before carrying it back to the lake.
He said: "The otter was absolutely exhausted. It was a very warm morning and if we had put the otter into the lake at that stage, it would have drowned, so we allowed it to get its breath back. It started to try to bite us again -- and at that stage I knew that the otter was ready to get back into the water."
Finally, the feisty creature swam off into the lake, while Mr Burke was left nursing his wound.
Otters in Ireland currently have an unfavourable conservation status after a decline in their population since the 1980s.
According to the last count, there were 5,866 adult females which is 21.5pc below the 1982 figure.