Project giant otter 2001: status of the giant otter in the Parque Noel Kempff Mercado

Paul Van Damme

Project GIANT OTTER 2001 is the direct result of a project which was developed in 2000 in the river Ichilo, which forms the boundary line between Parque Carrasco and Parque Amboro. In that project, aquatic and riparian biodiversity was established, focusing on benthos, fish and aquatic birds. Southern river otter was recognized as top-predators and indicators of river ecological functioning. The results of this project were published in a report.During the project GIANT OTTER 2001 rivers Paraguá, Paucerna and Itenez will be visited.. This research will provide a detailed assessment of giant otter distribution, and of the natural and human factors which influence its distribution. During the field surveys other groups will also be monitored: benthos (surber sampler), fish (underwater snorkelling and electrical fishing), and aquatic piscivorous birds. Moreover, a general habitat description is planned, focusing on river (geo-)morphology, physical barriers in the streams, river substrate characteristics, riparian vegetation structure (focusing on fruit trees), fishing activities and human settlements. Historical distribution will be obtained through interviews with clue fishermen. Besides, all factors which may affect giant otter distribution (local control by Amazon tribes, human pressure by colonisation, commercial and/or subsistence fishing activities, deforestation of shores) will be studied. Special emphasis will be given to the perception which local communities have of giant otter. This information will represent the basis for community-based conservation. The project's main long-term contribution is two-fold: in the first place it will identify important areas for otter conservation the National Park Noel Kempff Mercado and identify zones which should receive a special conservation status (from these areas future re-colonization may occur), and which will be protected and/or managed by Amazon indigenous people. The data bases will be used to develop a GIS, which will including data on otter distribution, as well as data on all variables which may influence otter occurrence, such as fish distribution, chemical water characteristics, benthos abundance, river (geo-)morphology, physical barriers, substrate characteristics, riparian vegetation structure (focusing on fruit trees), fishing activities and human settlements. A full report will be produced within a year and appropriate papers written. The project includes the development of a video on the National Parks and a CD-ROM on conservation issues which will be used in the local university.

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