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Bihar’s rescued otter lived longest, triggers global interest

An otter that was purchased from poachers in Bhagalpur 16 years ago is engaging the interest of wildlife enthusiasts the world over—for its sheer longevity.

india Updated: Sep 04, 2016 16:57 IST
The otter lived for 17 years, marking the maximum life span measured around the globe for this semi-aquatic mammal.
The otter lived for 17 years, marking the maximum life span measured around the globe for this semi-aquatic mammal.(HT Photo)

An otter that lived an extraordinary 17 years in the Gangetic belt has inspired a British wildlife organisation, which has given a recently-rescued cub of the same species an identical name: ‘Ganga’.

It was 16 years ago that a young animal lover in Bhagalpur purchased a two-month-old otter that ended up marking the maximum life span measured around the globe for this semi-aquatic mammal.

Sushant Dey, who saw the little otter trapped in early 2000, bought it and named the animal ‘Ganga’ before hand-rearing the carnivorous pup—for the next eight years. In 2008, he let the otter slip back into its own world. The saga of rehabilitated life continued in the Vikramshila Dolphin Gangetic Sanctuary area.

Early this year, on February 26, people living on the banks of the river Ganga hauled out a dead otter, which Dey recognised as his own pet from a birthmark he knew. Otters are generally known to live a maximum of 16 years.

The ‘Ganga’ story travelled to as far as the United Kingdom, where the International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) has now renamed one of its latest rescued otters after Bihar’s famed survivor. “We were flooded with suggestions from wildlife trusts across the globe on naming the little otter,” the IOSF website said. “After some discussion, we named the young otter ‘Ganga’, as the Bihar story inspired us.”

Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) reveals the suggestion for the second ‘Ganga’ name came from an Indian. “It was by Rahul Kumar of Coalition Wild,” says WTI’s Radhika Bhagat, who had witnessed its rehabilitation in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district.

Kumar notes that the otter of his friend Dey was unique in many ways. “Ganga responded only to Dey. It’s strange,” he says.

The tale of ‘Ganga’ has more to it than the marathon survival, according to experts.

Sunil Kumar Choudhary of Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University says Ganga was the rarest of the rare otters in the world whose rehabilitation in its natural eco-system was a success.

Researchers are of the opinion that while ‘Ganga’ was able to live its full life span, other otters die or get trapped/killed early in life.

A roaring trade in otter skin and meat in south-east Asian countries and China threatens this critically-endangered animal. Otters are already on the IUCN Red List. In India, they are listed under schedule II of the Indian Protection of Wildlife Act 1972, suggesting endangered existence.

Wetland ecology expert Dr SK Choudhary cites a string of reasons for the precarious life of otters along the Gangetic plains. “Trapping otters for pet trade, encroachment of habitat, poaching for fur and rise in pollution levels in Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary are among the factors that threaten their existence,” he points out.

Prabhat Kumar Gupta, regional chief conservator of forest (Bhagalpur) says the Bihar government has yet to conduct a census of otters. “Nor is there any agency active in the Gangetic belt for conservation of river species. As a result we fail to check trade in such species,” he adds.

Researchers say, half of otter skins in world markets are sourced from India via Nepal and Tibet, where gowns are made from its fur.

Winter cloth market in India too stock otter fur coats, despite several reports from IOSF, WTI and Wildlife Society of India pointing to the violations.