AboutZoos, Since 2008


Will Asian small-​clawed otters sur­vive agri­cul­tural India?

pub­lished 24 March 2012 | mod­i­fied 07 April 2012

Although the world’s small­est otter species, the Asian small-​clawed otter, still can be found in the streams that flow through tea and cof­fee estates of India’s West­ern Gats, their habi­tat is being chal­lenged by the agri­cul­tural expansion.

In the frag­mented rain­forests of India, many ani­mals must move through human-​modified land­scapes such as agri­cul­tural fields to survive,

includ­ing the Asian small-​clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus).

Accord­ing to a new study pub­lished in mongabay.com’s open access jour­nal Trop­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (TCS), the Asian small-​clawed otter is wide­spread in streams flow­ing through tea and cof­fee estates of the West­ern Ghats, but requires improved protection.

Listed as Vul­ner­a­ble by the IUCN Red List, the Asian small-​clawed otter is imper­iled by habi­tat loss and pol­lu­tion that has dec­i­mated its prey. It has already van­ished from some areas of India due to these pres­sures. But sci­en­tists hope more research on Asian small-​clawed otters’ needs could con­serve the species where it remains. Still the chal­lenges are large as the researches write that the West­ern Ghats are “one of the most densely pop­u­lated and human-​modified bio­di­ver­sity hotspots in the trop­ics” with tea and cof­fee mono­cul­tures going back hun­dreds of years.

asiatic small-clawed otter

Sam­pling 66 streams for otter dung, dens, and foot­prints in a pro­tected area (Ana­malai Tiger Reserve) and nearby tea and cof­fee estates (the Val­parai plateau) researchers found that otters were present in 75 per­cent of the streams regard­less of whether it was a pro­tected area or agri­cul­tural field. How­ever, they found that streams in the agri­cul­tural areas were much less intensely used by otters. Accord­ing to the sci­en­tists, the most likely rea­son for the less-​intensive use was a lack of refuge areas, such as boul­ders, bur­rows, and logs. In addi­tion, less diverse foliage along the river could be another fac­tor. Finally, Asian small-​clawed river otters may be impacted by fish­ing, sand min­ing, and pol­lu­tion in the agri­cul­tural estates.

The researchers rec­om­mend retain­ing and restor­ing native veg­e­ta­tion around rivers as well as tack­ling pol­lu­tion prob­lems, espe­cially a con­cern in cof­fee areas.

“A step in this direc­tion has been made with the intro­duc­tion of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of cof­fee and tea plan­ta­tions,” they write adding that, “engage­ment with cor­po­rate bod­ies who own large tea and cof­fee plan­ta­tions, which enclose ripar­ian forests, is nec­es­sary in order to achieve that.”

Finally the researchers urge that biol­o­gists con­duct more stud­ies of aquatic and semi-​aquatic species in trop­i­cal forests, such as river-​loving otters, since they have long been neglected com­pared to trop­i­cal ter­res­trial animals.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at mongabay​.com. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Mongabay​.com, 19.03.2012)

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