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Colombo collaboration helps to put neglected otters back on the map

February 08, 2016

otter exchange smooth coated otters

One of the most valuable experiences afforded by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is the opportunity for alumni to pass on their skills and increase their own knowledge base through peer-to-peer learning. Support from the Fondation Segré Conservation Fund at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) enables individuals and teams within the CLP network to participate in the Learning Exchange Programme, a mentoring scheme that benefits everyone involved.

In November 2015, Atul Borker and Hanna Krupa spent two weeks in Colombo sharing their knowledge of otter conservation with an enthusiastic Sri Lankan team.

Kanchana Weerakoon is the founder of ECO-V, a Sri Lankan NGO that is engaged in a variety of conservation projects, and which aims to develop a long-term, island-wide otter research programme. It is almost two decades since any meaningful research on otters in Sri Lanka was published. A lack of funding and local expertise has led to otter conservation being badly neglected.

One of the principal objectives of the exchange was to equip Kanchana and her team with the requisite skills to address this deficiency and spearhead a series of new otter-focused initiatives. As a seasoned member of the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group and an expert in otter survey and monitoring techniques, Atul has accumulated a wealth of knowledge that was highly relevant to the needs of Sri Lanka’s would-be researchers.

otter exchange GPS training

For his part, Atul was hoping that Kanchana would pass on a few pearls of wisdom based on her 15 years of experience at the helm of ECO-V. Having recently founded his own Indian NGO, Wild Otters, Atul was aware that he had a great deal to learn about managing an organisation.

The two-week trip proved to be a resounding success for both parties.

From Kanchana’s perspective, the hands-on training in project planning, field survey techniques, use of scientific equipment such as GPS and camera traps, and data interpretation has empowered her team at ECO-V to carry out more effective research, offering renewed hope for otter conservation in Sri Lanka.

otter exchange fieldwork

The learning exchange opportunity arose out of a very brief conversation during a CLP training course, and came at an ideal time for Kanchana: “Atul and I met on a leadership training programme. It was great that he chose me as his partner for a learning exchange. It’s really remarkable how short meetings can lead to long-term connections. I was waiting to start another scientific research programme and am so glad it is now on otters in Sri Lanka. With the help of Atul and Hanna from the Wild Otter team in India, I now have a trained team in Sri Lanka who will be able to get field data and handle scientific equipment for gathering data on our own wild otters. It is a nice feeling that we have a partnership in two countries to save the same species.”

“Training people from another country was a very enriching experience,” Atul revealed. Equally importantly, the learning exchange has provided his own organisation with a vital springboard from which to launch a wider work programme: “There are very few researchers across the globe working actively on otters. Wild Otters looks forward to changing that in the years to come. The work in Sri Lanka marks the start of our international work. It has boosted our confidence, and we now have the basic experience necessary for future international engagements.”

otter exchange group photo