Indian otters face threats due to habitat degradation and conflict with local communities

Updated - June 26, 2023 06:30 pm IST

Published - June 09, 2023 07:35 pm IST - Bengaluru

The Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), in a recent research, has found that India’s otters face threats due to habitat degradation, disappearing of wetlands, illegal trade, hunting, and conflict with local communities.

In the study titled “Living alongside otters: examining human-otter interactions and attitudes towards otters in Central India for conservation in shared landscapes,” authors Vinni Jain and Dr. Krithi K. Karanth found that otters are declining globally and in India, especially outside protected areas in shared landscapes.

CWS scientists surveyed 551 people across an area of 3,300 sq. km. in the Balaghat District of Madhya Pradesh to examine people’s overlap with otters.

According to CWS this region consists of a biologically important forest corridor connecting Kanha and Pench National Parks with several threatened species of wildlife, including tigers, leopards, sloth bears, dholes, and barasingha. This region is also home to over 350,000 people. Questionnaire surveys were used to understand people’s interactions with otters, the impact otters had on their lives, and their attitudes towards otters.

Among fishing communities

“During our conversations with fisher communities we found that otters frequently steal fish from nets, damage equipment, and enter lakes where commercial species are being reared. Although some people were tolerant of these losses, and even appreciated the presence of otters, many others had low tolerance and expressed the desire to retaliate against otters for the damages,” said Vinni Jain, the lead author of the study.

As per the study otter presence was reported from 94% of surveyed area, and most (65.7%) respondents reported encountering otters at least once.

The majority of interactions (74.9%) were neutral with no impacts on people, 19.4% were negative due to otter-caused damages, and 7.3% were positive. The study which was published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation also states that fishers reported that otters steal their fish and damage their fishing gear, with an average annual loss of ₹13,145 (10% of the mean annual income).

Socio-cultural connection

Dr. Krithi Karanth, co-author of the study, said that people’s connection to otters are intertwined with their firsthand observations and socio-cultural connections. “If you have seen otters, you cannot help falling in love with them. Economic losses could lead to lowered tolerance and retaliations. India being home to some of the most critical populations of otters globally needs to devise locally-relevant conservation interventions that fosters these connections and mitigates these losses,” Dr. Karanth said.

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