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Otters In Tiger Country

The new photographic evidence of Eurasian otters from the Satpura Tiger Reserve and Balaghat Forest Division extends the species’ known geographical range to the central Indian landscape. Photo Courtesy: Wildlife Conservation Trust

The business of biogeography is to inquire and ascertain where a species exists, where it doesn’t, and why? Though enough work has been done to record and report the geographic distribution of species in India, our forests still hold secrets. That the forested hill range of Satpura, in the heart of India, is a biodiversity hotspot, is undisputed. But to say that all life forms, or even the mammals in these forests, have been fully documented and catalogued, would be a gross overstatement.

The Satpura hill-forests are home to mammals that glide across treetops – squirrels, and mammals that swim its rivers... otters. While the smooth-coated otter, found throughout south and Southeast Asia, has been well documented in Satpura, the other two species known from India – the Asian small-clawed and the Eurasian – had never been reported from central India. Moreover, there was no photographic evidence of the presence of the Eurasian otter in India until October 2016.

Ek choti si, alag si udbilao dikhti hai kabhi kabhi,” a forest guard revealed to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), who were installing camera traps as part of the yearly tiger estimation exercise in the Satpura Tiger Reserve in December 2015. While installing camera traps, they had come across signs of otter presence along the rivers and streams – footprints and spraints (otter dung). This got the researchers curious, and the guard’s revelation, though not clear-cut, piqued their curiosity further. Unable to ascertain the species based only on the footprints and spraints, they decided to place camera traps for otters. With years of experience in camera trapping for tiger estimations, these boys and men have become wizards of their science. But installing camera traps for otters is a different ball game. For scientific estimation of tiger numbers, camera traps are never placed along streams; for otters, this is exactly what was needed to be done.

Around rock boulders where they had seen spraints, along sandy river and stream...

 
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