Otters, often described as the ambassadors of Wetlands, are classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Redlist. Here is a brief insight into the importance of otters to the wetland ecosystem.
Most scientists have described Otters as “Ambassadors of Wetlands”, meaning the prey base of an animal has a larger impact on the environment it thrives in. A Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) will devour not just large fishes or crabs but will feed on weaker or even diseased fishes to keep the environment safe and healthy.
Unlike Tigers and Leopards which have stripes and rosettes, otters do not have any distinct skin pattern which will help researchers to get an estimate of the population in wild, neither there is a technique to count a number of individuals unless there is an external marking such as scars or even any skin abnormalities.
Smooth-coated otters are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in IUCN Red List and are included in CITES Appendix 1, which strengthens its protection with regards to international trade. According to the Indian context, Smooth-coated otters are a Scheduled 2 species in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which puts a strict ban on hunting, harvesting of animal, or its parts, providing the highest protection.
While working on otters in Cauvery or Kaveri River originating from the foothills of Talakaveri, Kodagu, Karnataka, flowing through states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The sharing of water of the Cauvery River has been the source of serious conflict between two states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. We observed fascinating behavior in otters apart from their usual daily rituals. The team’s study was focused on understanding the influence of environmental factors on the activity of Smooth-coated Otters, which was observing the behavior of otter using direct sighting as well as camera trap videos and images.
Smooth-coated Otters or Neeru Nayi (Neeru = Water and Nayi = Dog, also called Water Dog or Paani ka Kutta) in Kannada are a local inhabitant of Cauvery River, backwaters of KRS dam and Ooty are places where Small-clawed Otters (Anoyx cinereus) are also found`. The river is habitat to local Indian Mugger or Indian Crocodile, numerous migrant birds as well as resident bird-like Lesser Fish- Eagle.
The activity of predator is always dependent on the activity of the prey, which was also true for otters in a riverine habitat of Cauvery. The pack of otters also referred to as Romp will never fully consume its prey base, they will migrate upstream or downstream depending upon their territory, which naturally maintains the prey balance in any landscapes.
Begin a pack animal, the activities a group performs are just amazing to observe as our team has observed them imitating Dolphin behavior, like jumping out of water in a very playful manner.
Camera trapping helped us in understanding the nocturnal behavior of otters – To put in perspective, it’s their Private Life. The study’s outcome stated that Smooth-coated Otters tend to be nocturnal in areas with high anthropogenic activities.
With many advancements in research methods, the use of modern equipment, we are now able to understand these secretive, charismatic species which will help bring conservation spotlight on these species.