Hyderabad: Top wildlife researchers have called for an intensive survey to estimate the existence of the smooth-coated otter in Telangana, which was included last month in Appendix I of the IUCN Red List of endangered animals.
“There is no information about where all they are found and how many of them are there in Telangana,” a wildlife official of the State Forest Department told Telangana Today.
However, the official as well as researchers who previously studied the otters’ distribution in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh said there were reports of these otters being seen less than two years ago in Kapra lake in the city. “Some birdwatchers reported seeing them. But there has been no news of them since,” the official said. The lake is currently undergoing a revitalisation programme with part of its highly polluted water drained for removal of accumulated silt from sewerage and other wastes.
The last known study on the otter in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was published in 1998 by a group of wildlife researchers. “It is very likely that their populations in the State are unstable,” Prof C Srinivasulu from Osmania University, who was one of the authors of the study, said.
“The need of the hour is an intensive survey of all potential habitats of the otter in the State,” another author of the study, Prof V Vasudeva Rao, from Prof Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University said.
The smooth-coated otter, a pair of which is also on display in the Nehru Zoological Park, were found in the erstwhile Adilabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, Warangal and Medak districts in Telangana. Their numbers were then estimated to range between 15 and 90 at different locations in these districts as per the 1998 study. However, no one currently has any idea of just how many of these animals are there in the State.
Lakes like Pakhal in Warangal used to have otters but they are no longer seen there, Vasudeva Rao added. But there still might be hope for the animal in the State but only a thorough survey will be able to present a correct picture of the otter’s status in Telangana, he added.
Incidentally, none of the brochures on the different wildlife sanctuaries available online on the Telangana State Forest Department mention the presence of the otter in any of these protected areas.
The smooth-coated otter, a primarily fish-eating mammal is listed as a vulnerable species by International Union for Conservation of Nature. At its meeting this August in Switzerland, IUCN banned all international trade of this animal with fears of its numbers falling across its range and an increasing demand of the otter as a pet in some Asian countries. India was one of the countries that pressed for this action.
India tops in illegal trade
India is believed to be one of the prime sources for illegal trade in otter skins with the pelts of the smooth-coated otter being in particularly high demand in some international markets.
According to a report by TRAFFIC (Trade Record Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) of IUCN and WWF, 2,949 otter skins were seized in the country between 1980 and 2015 that accounted for more than 50 per cent of all otter skin seizures in Asian countries.
According to TRAFFIC, misconceptions that otter blood can cure epilepsy and oil from its fat can treat joint pains and pneumonia also contribute to its killings in addition to those by fishermen who see these animals as competition.