Otters are charming and charismatic semi-aquatic mammals that grace the diverse landscapes of India. Known for their playful nature, these enchanting creatures can often be observed splashing about in the country’s pristine rivers, streams, and wetlands. India is home to three otter species: the smooth-coated otter, the Eurasian otter, and the small-clawed otter, each uniquely adapted to its particular habitat. Unfortunately, these delightful creatures are facing a range of threats, including habitat destruction from dams and deforestation, water pollution from industries and agriculture, and illegal poaching for their valuable fur and meat. These threats are putting tremendous pressure on otter populations across the country, making conservation efforts crucial to the survival of these remarkable animals.
Small Clawled Otter
|1||Common Name||Asian Small Clawed Otter|
|2||Scientific Name||Aonyx cinereus|
|4||Colour||Dark brown fur|
|5||Average weight||2.7 to 3.5 kg|
|6||Food habits||feed on fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and amphibians|
|7||Habitat||They are typically found in rivers, streams, swamps, and other freshwater bodies in forested areas|
|8||Any interesting facts about them||Asian Small Clawed otters are known for their vocalisations, which include a variety of chirps, grunts, and whistles.|
The Asian small-clawed otter, also known as the Oriental small-clawed otter, is a remarkable species of otter found in Southeast Asia. Despite being the smallest otter species, they possess unique characteristics that set them apart from their larger relatives.
These otters have a compact and adorable appearance, weighing between 2 and 5 kg and measuring 60 to 70 cm in length. Their short and dense fur has a captivating dark brown or greyish-brown hue. Interestingly, their claws are not fully webbed, enabling them to manipulate objects and hunt prey with ease.
Asian small-clawed otters are highly social creatures, living in groups of up to 12 individuals. Their daytime activities involve swimming with incredible agility and grace. They can seal their nostrils and ears to prevent water from entering while underwater, showcasing their impressive adaptability. These otters also communicate with each other through a unique vocalization system comprising chirps, whistles, and growls.
Asian small-clawed otters are omnivores, and their diet consists of a variety of food items, including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and small mammals. They have been known to use tools, such as rocks, to break open shellfish, making them one of the few non-primate species that use tools.
The Asian small-clawed otters are found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including freshwater rivers, streams, and mangrove swamps, throughout Southeast Asia. They are well adapted to living in a tropical climate, with their dense fur helping them to stay warm in water and protect them from the sun.
These otters prefer to live in areas with plenty of vegetation, as it provides cover and food sources. They build their dens near the water’s edge, which can be in hollow logs, rock crevices, or burrows. They also construct complex dens with multiple entrances and chambers to provide additional protection from predators and inclement weather.
Small Clawed Otter is considered a vulnerable species in India, primarily due to habitat loss and degradation caused by human activities like deforestation, dam construction, and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Indian population of clawless otters as “vulnerable”.
It is difficult to estimate the exact population of clawless otters in India, as they are solitary animals and difficult to observe in the wild. However, it is believed that their numbers have declined significantly in recent years due to habitat loss and hunting for their fur and meat. According to a study conducted in the northeast Indian state of Assam, the population of clawless otters in the region has declined by more than 50% in the past 30 years.
The main threats to clawless otters in India are habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution of freshwater bodies, and hunting. Deforestation, agricultural expansion, and dam construction have led to the loss and degradation of their habitats, while pollution from industries and agriculture has contaminated freshwater bodies, reducing the availability of prey.
Hunting is also a significant threat to clawless otters, as they are often hunted for their fur, which is used in traditional medicine and as a decorative item. The decline in the population of prey species like fish and crustaceans due to overfishing and pollution also affects the survival of clawless otters.
In India, clawless otters can be found in several national parks and wildlife reserves that are known for their biodiversity and important habitats.
Located in the northeastern state of Assam, Kaziranga National Park is known for its population of one-horned rhinoceroses, tigers, and Asian elephants. The park is also home to several species of otters, including the Small Clawed Otters.
Also located in Assam, Manas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is known for its diverse ecosystems and wildlife, including tigers, elephants, and Indian rhinoceroses. The park is home to both the smooth-coated and the Small Clawed Otters.
. Located in the eastern state of West Bengal, Sunderbans National Park is a unique mangrove forest that is home to several endangered species, including the Royal Bengal tiger, saltwater crocodile, and the Small Clawed Otters..
Bhitarkanika National Park: Located in the eastern state of Odisha, Bhitarkanika National Park is a unique wetland ecosystem that is home to several species of otters, including the smooth-coated and the clawless otter.
Situated in the Western Ghats region of Karnataka, Nagarhole National Park has several streams and rivers that provide suitable habitats for otters, as well as other aquatic species such as crocodiles and fish.
Known for its rich biodiversity and tropical evergreen forests, Silent Valley National Park in Kerala is home to several endemic species of flora and fauna, including otters.
These national parks play an important role in protecting the habitat of the clawless otter and other endangered species, and several conservation efforts are underway to protect these important ecosystems.
Conservation measures for otters in India demand urgent attention and decisive action. Here are some critical steps that need to be taken:
Habitat preservation: Otters thrive in undisturbed riverine and wetland habitats with clean water sources. It is imperative to safeguard their natural habitats from the ravages of human activities such as pollution, damming, and deforestation.
Population monitoring: Regular surveys must be conducted to track otter populations and their distribution in India. This will aid conservationists in identifying potential threats and taking timely action.
Prevention of poaching and illegal trade: Otters are hunted and traded illegally for their valuable fur, meat, and other body parts. Strict enforcement of anti-poaching and anti-trafficking laws is essential to curb such illegal activities.
Awareness campaigns: Educating local communities about the ecological significance of otters and the need for their conservation can mobilize public support for their protection.
Mitigation of human-wildlife conflict: Otters can come into conflict with fishermen and farmers, and to address these challenges, alternate livelihood options and compensation schemes should be developed.
Restoration of degraded habitats: The restoration of degraded habitats is critical to creating new habitats for otters and enhancing the quality of existing ones. Afforestation and wetland restoration initiatives can help in this regard.
Research: Comprehensive research is necessary to better understand the ecology and behaviour of otters in India. This can assist conservationists in developing more effective conservation strategies for these elusive and endangered animals.