The Otter Watch Project

by M. Gopakumar (ELP 2001)
The foundation that I manage, The Nityata Foundation, works on landscapes and species that most foundations do not work on simply because there is no funding. Our flagship project in the last year has been The Otter Watch Initiative – a most challenging project if there ever was one.

Why otters? Because we are captivated by them! They are enigmatic, playful, and sociable and not much is known about them here in India. Otters, along with crocodiles, are the head of the riverine food chain – the tigers and leopards of the river, so to speak – and we hope that our effort to conserve them along the Cauvery River in Karnataka (South India) will end up enriching the river itself.

Otters are, like many animals, threatened by poaching, their skin being clandestinely exported to handbag manufacturers. A greater threat though is the conflict with fishermen, who see otters stealing their yearly-decreasing catch, and do not hesitate to kill them when they get caught in the nets themselves.

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My small team of wildlife biologist + sociologist + economist (that’s me) and support staff are now working on economic tools that could help conserve the otter such as market mechanisms that will provide possible livelihoods to local stakeholders. Low-impact – emphasis on truly low-impact, possible solutions include: eco-tourism and appointing river wardens. The journey thus far has been fascinating – it began as a wildlife project and we now realise that saving the otter has little to do with the animal itself and far more to do with working on sustainable solutions that will conserve fish populations.

If we succeed in making some impact in this three year project, its replicability is exciting – all rivers in India are over exploited and many have otters. It could also add to the increasing body of work that supports market-based tools for conservation, valuing eco-system services and protection.

For further information about this project, email gopa@navgati.in.