Monitoring otter populations and combating poaching through stakeholder participation in India
Otters are ambassadors of wetland ecosystems. Being top predators, they have been severely affected by loss of riparian habitats to agriculture and other anthropogenic activities like sand mining, hydroelectric projects and the usage of dynamite in fishing. Cauvery is one of the major rivers of peninsular India and is important not just for otters but also for millions of people dependent on it for their livelihood. Being one of the last strongholds of the smooth-coated otter, the goal of this project is to identify and secure otter populations along the river Cauvery and initiate stakeholder-based protection measures to safeguard otters from poaching. Our study uses questionnaire surveys, direct (visual) and indirect sign surveys, and camera traps to identify and monitor smooth-coated otter populations outside protected areas and across a gradient of protection regimes along the river Cauvery. We hope to identify anthropogenic threats to otter populations in the unprotected 200km stretch of the river, and map them. We will also evaluate the type and degree of conflict if any between otters and river-dependent communities like fishers. We propose, as a desirable outcome from this project, to elicit local involvement in otter protection by facilitating the creation of an ‘Otter Watch’ program: a genuine eco-tourism initiative that will provide sustainable livelihoods to a few local people who are carefully chosen by us.