Census finds 500 smooth-coated otters along Maharashtra’s coast

Otters are an endangered species, and this species is found only on Konkan coast, say experts with the state mangrove cell and NGO Ela Foundation, who jointly conducted the survey

mumbai Updated: Nov 07, 2017 16:58 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
The census found between 437 and 591 otters across 12 creeks in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district.(Photo courtesy: Ela Foundation)

There are around 500 smooth-coated otters along the southern Konkan coast, revealed the first census of this rarely studied mammal.

The census, conducted by the state mangrove cell and Pune-based NGO Ela Foundation, is important because otters are classified as an endangered species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and ‘vulnerable’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species is found only along the Konkan coast.

“Otters are elusive aquatic mammals that move on both land and water. They are some of the most sensitive indicators of our aquatic ecosystems,” said Satish Pande, director, Ela Foundation which conducted the census with other researchers.

“We found that mangroves are essential for the survival of this species as they act as hiding places for these mammals. This ecosystem also supports a lot of aquatic life such as fish and crustaceans which makes up their diet.”

The census found between 437 and 591 otters across 12 creeks in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. With small eyes and ears, a flat tail and webbed paws, smooth-coated otters hunt in groups for safety, the study found.

Pande added that the mangrove cover is also used to make camouflaged dens. “The species ensure that their young ones are familiar with the aquatic environment and teach them to hunt from an early age,” he said.

Carried out between November 2015 and 2016, the survey was done using camera-trap technology, under-bridge surveys and local information.

The otter sites were mapped with GPS coordinates for all creeks. The data was published as a part of a research paper recently by the state mangrove cell.

The study identified threats to the otter’s habitat such as sand dredging, water pollution from pesticides and industries leading to high turbidity in some creeks where the mammals hunt for fish.

“We observed human disturbance in the form of industries and pesticide pollution at Kolamb creek and Shiroda creek, and sand mining reported from various areas at Karli creek,” said Pande.

There is no comprehensive data for otter population and status of the species in Maharashtra. Sightings are rare, mostly in and around mangroves, and their habitats are not easily accessible.

There are six species of otters recorded from Asia, of which the Eurasian otter, smooth-coated otter and Asian small-clawed otter, are reported from India.

“There have been reports regarding the presence of otters along all coastal districts in Maharashtra, including Mulshi and the Bhima River near Pune. However, their habitat is under severe threat,” said Pande. “We have asked the mangrove cell to extend the survey to Ratnagiri, Raigad, Thane and Palghar, so that our surveys can provide better protection to their habitats.”

Officials from the mangrove cell said similar studies under the development of their ‘mangrove co-management committees’ have been planned across the state’s coastline. “The cell will dispense funds from the mangrove foundation to study these mammals better. We will focus our efforts towards protecting the habitat of these mammals with help from coastal communities and researchers to ensure there is no decline in their numbers,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

First Published: Nov 07, 2017 16:47 IST