Using camera traps, the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan has captured some intimate photographs of the endangered smooth-coated otters. The photos were taken in the Makhi area of Chotiari Reservoir in Sanghar.
Out of the 13 otter species extant in the world, only two are found in Pakistan; the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra).
In Pakistan, the smooth-coated otter inhabits the freshwater bodies in the plain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh. It is called ludhro in Sindhi, oodh balao in Urdu, ludhar in Punjabi and khuwarr spay in Pushto. The nocturnal animal is reported in 11 districts of Sindh; Kashmore, Ghotki, Sukkur, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Khairpur, Benazirabad, Sanghar, Jamshoro, Badin, Thatta and Mirpurkhas.
The smooth-coated otter is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species. In 1972, the otter was placed under protected status in the Sindh Wildlife Protection Act. Capturing or hunting the animal is illegal in Pakistan.
About the pictures taken recently near the Nara Canal, Rab Nawaz, the director of Indus for All Programme, said that the smooth-coated otter is sensitive to deterioration in water quality, toxicity and pollution. “Its presence is an indicator of wetland health, as they are among the first species to disappear when their environment is contaminated,” he added.
The officer said that the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan is engaging local communities, government departments and non-governmental organisations for the protection of the vulnerable otter species, which is declining at a fast pace. He felt the area needs to be declared an otter sanctuary. According to a press release, Saeedul Islam of the Indus for All programme said that the otter was considered an important component of an aquatic environment as it ensures a healthy fish stock by eating weak and diseased fish. The otter’s diet is mainly based on fish, though it also eats frogs, crabs, birds and other aquatic invertebrates. Its average life spans 10 to 15 years. Different studies show that a good population of otters exist in and around the Chotiari Reservoir.
Islam told The Express Tribune that since the otters are shy animals, the organisation had to place hidden cameras at different locations to capture their behaviour. “The camera traps were in place for a week and took many photographs of the aquatic mammals.”
He said that the team had located these otters in 2007 when they started working in Sanghar. “Hunting, logging and fishing should be prohibited in areas where the otters live so that their natural habitat is not disturbed,” he added.
According to the official, the largest population of smooth-coated otters in Pakistan has been reported in Sanghar with around 86 animals living in the area. Islam also emphasised on the need to create awareness among local communities about its significance and urged for necessary steps to be taken for the conservation of the smooth-coated otter.
Researchers have noted that these otters live in groups typically consisting of an adult male, female and up to four young ones. The otter has adapted well to live in association with humans and is found to be more tolerant of human activities.
With additional input from PPI
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.
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