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India is home to three of the 13 species of otter found worldwide. WWF-India’s primary focus is on the smooth-coated otter: although the species is widely distributed and adapted to a variety of freshwater habitats, its conservation status isn’t sufficiently documented and its population has been greatly reduced due to habitat loss and the depletion of their prey base.

The main threats to otters in India are: habitat loss due to wetland reclamation; infrastructure development, which isolates populations and can lead to inbreeding; reductions in otters’ prey base (primarily fish) through overexploitation and water pollution; biomagnification of toxins; and hunting by fishers who view otters as competitors. Hunting to meet demand for pelts is also a major and growing problem, particularly affecting the smooth-coated otter.

In terms of otter conservation, one of the main constraints is the lack of information about the species’ current geographical spread and population size. The documentation of past, present, and potential future distribution and abundance of otters is vital for understanding their population dynamics and planning effective species-oriented conservation programmes.

Funded by the HSBC Water Programme, WWF-India’s main focus for otter conservation is on establishing otter species’ status and distribution, on identifying crucial riverine stretches for immediate protection as otter habitat and on establishing well-defined protocols to ensure future population trends are properly monitored.

Read the case study (2017) PDF describing this work

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