Maharashtra to study otter population, check threats after international trade ban
Maharashtra has planned a study to assess the population of otters and threats to their habitat after the Indian government successfully convinced the United Nations (UN) to ban commercial trade in smooth-coated and Asian small-clawed otters on Monday.
There are six species of otters in Asia, of which, the Eurasian otter, smooth-coated and Asian small-clawed otters are found in India. The two-year study is expected to begin this year and will try to understand the impacts of sand mining on their habitat.
The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned trade in smooth-coated and Asian small-clawed otters.
While their sightings are rare, the two species are found near creeks, mangrove forests and rivers along the Konkan region. There is no comprehensive data or overall status of the species from Maharashtra.
The mangrove cell of the forest department will use camera-trap technology, under-bridge surveys and information from locals to determine their population, scale of trade, threats and habitat loss across Palghar, Raigad, and Ratnagiri districts. “Otters are very much part of the mangrove ecosystem. Developing species-wise conservation strategies is an effort towards conserving the entire biodiversity,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove Cell). “Now that CITES has enhanced global protection, it is our responsibility to see there is no clandestine trade,” he said.
In 2017, a study by Pune-based Ela Foundation for the forest department in Sindhudurg district had recorded 591 smooth-coated otters across 12 creeks in the state. However, numbers from no other districts are available.
“We have been told that the population is increasing along with major fish landing points in Konkan,” said Vasudevan. “There is, however, some negative perception about safeguarding them as they eat a large portion of daily fish catches. We will work with communities to drive home sensitisation.”
Experts said that otters have been under threat for a long time now.
“Scaling efforts to protect these species is opportune, but it is important to enhance protection across the nation and not just individual states,” said Ravi Singh, secretary general and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF-India).
Aniruddha Mookerjee, consultant wildlife advisor, WildCRU, University of Oxford, said “From witnessing the ghastly sight of otter skins hanging for sale in shops in Lhasa in Tibet and other places in China, protection for both otters as Appendix I will lead to far greater protection and accountability for different states and across countries.”
While the small-clawed otter is protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the smooth-coated is protected under schedule II.
Prior to Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh is the only state in India to have undertaken a state-wide otter census from March.
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