‘Vulnerable’ otter roaming Dadar East dies after rescue
Smooth-coated otters are seen in coastal creeks in the south Konkan, but there’s no way one could have reached the heart of the city on its own. It was probably smuggled as an exotic pet and then abandoned
Mumbai: An adult, male smooth-coated otter, suspected to be a victim of the illegal wildlife trade, died in the custody of volunteer wildlife rescuers on Saturday night, after it was captured from a chawl in Dadar East’s Naigaon vicinity, near the abandoned Kohinoor Mills compound.
Forest department officials said that the animal, which is protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) and classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was first seen in the area in early November.
No officials from the forest department were present during the rescue operation, and the volunteer rescuers did not have any prior experience working with this species.
The finding came as a surprise to officials and independent experts, who speculated that the otter was probably sustaining itself by eating fish from an artificial pond on the mill premises. The pond -- located at GPS coordinates 19.014917, 72.848764 -- remains full for several months after the monsoon season. “It could have also been eating scraps for a living. There was also a talk on WhatsApp groups that the animal had been eating the leftovers of a Chinese stall in Wadala,” said Sunish Kunju, an honorary wildlife warden who works with the forest department.
A senior forest official from Mumbai, said, “Smooth-coated otters are seen in coastal creeks in the south Konkan, but there’s no way one could have reached the heart of the city on its own. It was probably smuggled as an exotic pet and then abandoned. There is an artificial pond inside the mills which the animal could have been using to cool itself and find food. It passed away soon after it was captured at around 2.30am on Saturday. A final post-mortem report is awaited, but the preliminary report said the cause of death is an extreme shock.”
After being notified about the otter’s presence by locals living in the area on November 10, the forest department authorised an NGO, the Wildlife Welfare Association (WWA), to install camera traps and cages in the area. Despite patrolling the mill compound and nearby localities, the animal was nowhere to be found in the ensuing days. It was next seen on November 17 in a camera trap image, at the entrance of Kohinoor Mills just opposite Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaya. It repeatedly evaded capture by simply walking away from baited cages.
Using camera trap images, officials were able to triangulate the animal’s general whereabouts. A little before midnight on Friday, December 8, a group of four WWA volunteers sat in watch outside Gate No. 4 of the Kohinoor Mills compound and attempted to capture the otter with a large net. “It tore through the net, badly bit one of us, jumped the gate and ran into the parking lot of Shilpin Centre, a nearby office complex,” said one of the volunteers.
One of the group members was later admitted to KEM Hospital with injuries.
“We tried capturing it again, but it escaped the parking lot and entered a house in the Shivaji Nagar basti just behind Shilpin Centre. It was a small, vacant hut with no ventilation, but to prevent the otter from escaping again we locked it in there and tried to capture it an hour later. It was very aggressive and struggled a lot before finally entering the cage. This was around 2:30am on Saturday,” said the volunteer cited above.
The volunteer added that the animal’s breathing became increasingly laboured immediately after capture. “We tried our best to find a doctor, but it was very late and no veterinarians were answering our calls. We then decided to take the animal to the Bombay Veterinary Hospital in Parel but it died on the way,” they said.
Pradip Patade, a marine ecology expert and co-founder of the citizen science initiative Marine Life of Mumbai, expressed concern over this chain of events. “This is a very sad incident. The creature must have been extremely stressed, scared and exhausted. Smooth-coated otters are often smuggled when they are young for using an exotic pet, but later abandoned when they grow to their full size. That seems to be the case here as well. More care should be exercised when undertaking such sensitive rescues.”
An independent veterinarian in Mumbai with experience in treating wild animals remarked that the otter had likely died due to ‘capture myopathy’, a metabolic condition wherein high levels of stress and physical exertion lead to increased morbidity (and mortality) among wild animals during and after capture.
“The animal could have been monitored until a more qualified group of rescuers was available. It was already living in an extremely unnatural habitat. Hotter temperatures can exacerbate the risk of this condition, so it should not have been locked up in a tiny hut with no fresh air,” the vet said, not wanting to be identified