The Elusive Otter
“Otter is a animal you never knew you needed to know about” – an awareness message created by Martin Fowlie as we brainstormed on how to engage people in getting to know about otters.
Otter, a semi-aquatic mammal known by few and studied by handful. There are thirteen otter species spread across the globe. The one I am talking about in this article is called Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). This species is found only in Asia and is the most widespread species in India.
Natural Resources under Continuous Stress
In India, human population is fast growing. More than forty people would have been born in the time you take to read this article. Human necessities increase with population growth thereby putting more stress on natural resources. Attempts are made to areas human needs and wants (in some cases) through well planned and poorly planned construction projects which put natural resources under continuous stress.
Outside the areas protected for wildlife and close to human settlements we see a rise in construction activities. These small and large scale construction activities aim to modify the landscape to address human welfare. While most projects complete as expected, there are some left incomplete and unattended due to financial or legal constraints. Hardly any construction or habitat modification project pay equal attention to the needs of the wildlife residing in the area of modification. Very rarely are innovative strategies thought of to benefit both humans and wildlife in a development project.
Khazan Lands and the Fishing Culture
Goa, the coastal state of India is a well-known tourist destination. This land of sun, sand and coconut trees is also home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna. Smooth-coated otter and the Asian Small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) are the two species of otters found in Goa. Both species differ in the choice of habitat they prefer. While Asian Small-clawed otter being predominantly a crustacean feeder prefers the rocky and shallow forest streams of Western Ghats, majority of the Smooth-coated otter population in Goa is found in the mangroves predating mainly on fish. The estuarine region of this state boasts of a rich mangrove ecosystem.
This small state of India has a strong fishing culture and is admired for its seafood. Ruled by Portuguese at one time, Goa has unique Khazan lands. Khazans is creatively designed landscape during the Portuguese time to enable fishing and farming in tandem. As years go by the fishing activities have stayed alive while farming is becoming a dying tradition. The fishing pools are leased out annually.
Large-scale activities like sand and iron-ore mining, coal transport, riverbank constructions etc. negatively impact the natural abundance of fish in the waterbodies. Fish being the main prey of the smooth-coated otter; the survival challenge only increases as time goes by.
A Grass-root Level Perspective
I have been studying the smooth-coated otter in human modified landscape for over six years. Across the years I have made several notes on its behavior, adaptation, family dynamics, interaction with humans, interaction with stray dogs, interaction with other wild animals, habitat selection and habitat use.
A fishermen whose livelihood is also dependent on fish abundance works extremely hard to maintain the availability of fish stock in leased out or privately owned fishing pools. The government cares for their needs more often than not. With natural resources being shared between humans and animals; otters are often observed feeding from the leased out fishing pools and at times feeding from the fishing nets.
As the rivers get more utilized for commercial activities; getting more polluted with plastics, sewage and other waste; with riverbank constructions and modifications on the rise; it makes me wonder if the future of otter survival is directly proportional to the traditional fishing practices being followed in the area?
“Is fishermen presence critical for otter survival in human-modified landscape?”
Please do leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.