Otters are generally described because the “tigers of the mangrove” in Southeast Asia, the place they’re well-known to show extraordinary resilience and flexibility to human exercise and urbanization.A brand new camera-trap research now highlights the significance of expanses of pure habitat, equivalent to coastal forests and wetlands, for 2 species of otter residing alongside southern Thailand’s more and more modified coasts.The analysis staff discovered that whereas otters are in a position to stay inside human-modified landscapes, tracts of pure habitat supply them important refugia from a slew of threats, equivalent to street collisions, prey depletion as a consequence of air pollution of watercourses, and battle with fish and shrimp farmers.The authors used their findings to create maps that point out the place conservationists and wildlife departments ought to prioritize administration and monitoring for these important prime wetland predators.
Otters, with their gleeful yikkering, playful presence and sinuous underwater grace, are emblematic of the enjoyment and resilience of nature in lots of elements of the world. But they aren’t among the many first animals that come to thoughts after we consider Thailand. Yet a number of species of the glossy aquatic mammal frolic in Thailand’s watery thoroughfares and alongside its tropical shoreline, though valuable little is thought about them.
“Most wildlife research in Thailand are about large carnivores, like tigers and leopards. There’s an enormous quantity of information from camera-trap surveys for these species, however we haven’t checked out smaller species [like otters] a lot,” Naruemon Tantipisanuh, a conservation researcher at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Thailand, instructed Mongabay.
To plug this data hole, Naruemon and her colleagues not too long ago accomplished a five-year camera-trapping research in southern Thailand’s coastal wetlands to doc the distribution of two species of otter alongside the fast-developing seaboard.
Publishing their ends in Global Ecology and Conservation, the staff report that though each smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) and Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) are in a position to survive in mosaics of human-modified land, comprising plantations, farmland, aquaculture ponds and concrete areas, they nonetheless rely closely on patches of remaining pure habitat, equivalent to mangrove forest.
“Otters attempt to adapt themselves, but when doable, they might nonetheless favor their pure habitat,” mentioned Naruemon, lead writer of the brand new research. “The drawback is that land-use change can happen at any time, so maybe landowners will wish to develop plantations into homes or one thing that otters can’t use.”
Camera lure picture of a gaggle of loafing smooth-coated otters. In some situations, the researchers recorded teams of greater than ten otters sleeping on prime of each other like this. Image courtesy of CEG-KMUTT
In addition to mapping the distribution of otters alongside southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast and its more-developed Gulf of Thailand shoreline, the research presents insights into the threats the otters face, and maps the place conservation motion may safeguard their survival alongside the shoreline, which principally lies outdoors the nationwide community of protected areas.
The staff discovered that each species of otter are most in danger from automobile collisions, battle with fish and shrimp farmers that can lead to their persecution, and agricultural runoff polluting rivers, endangering not simply the otter populations but in addition the prey they feed on.
Additionally, otters are more and more captured from the wild to gasoline the unlawful pet commerce, they usually can grow to be entangled in snares set by native hunters to catch a simple meal. “We noticed some otters with a snare on their paws [or] on their again leg or round their center,” Naruemon mentioned. “Sometimes it could be clear that they couldn’t stroll correctly.”
The authors say their findings emphasize the significance of defending pure habitats, equivalent to mangroves, significantly alongside the Andaman Sea coast, and the “urgency” of implementing administration to cut back threats.
A analysis boat travels by a slim mangrove stream in southern Thailand. Image by Anucha Kamjing.
Adaptability is perhaps short-lived
As prime predators, otters play an important position in sustaining the well being of mangroves and different ecosystems by exerting management on prey and pest populations. Many species of otter are delicate to environmental degradation, equivalent to air pollution and habitat loss, so additionally they function essential indicators of total ecosystem well being.
Thailand is dwelling to 4 of the world’s 13 species of otter. In addition to the 2 species surveyed within the research, each of that are listed as weak on the IUCN Red List, the wide-ranging Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the extra covert hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) are additionally discovered within the nation. All 4 species face comparable threats, however this is likely one of the first makes an attempt to quantify them in Thailand, Naruemon mentioned.
As in different elements of Southeast Asia, Thailand’s mangroves have been intensively cleared and degraded because the Nineteen Nineties to make means for crops and aquaculture, vastly lowering otter habitat. Between 2000 and 2012, Southeast Asia misplaced 0.18% of its important carbon-sequestering coastal forests every year to grease palm plantations, rice fields and shrimp ponds.
While networks of drainage channels linked to pure watercourses can function rudimentary foraging grounds for resourceful otters inside these manufacturing landscapes, their long-term worth isn’t assured as market fluctuations can spur speedy conversion to new, even much less accommodating, land makes use of.
In this fluctuating and at instances hostile setting, pockets of pure habitat function important respite from the chaos of human exercise, Aarati Basnet, an otter researcher and doctoral candidate at Kent State University within the U.S., who was not concerned within the research, instructed Mongabay in an e-mail.
“Adaptability [of otters] in disrupted environments is perhaps a brief time period response, and extended publicity to those pressures may lead to inhabitants declines, diminished genetic range, and heightened susceptibility to threats equivalent to habitat destruction and air pollution. Thus, managing the prevailing otter populations turns into crucial by safeguarding their pure habitats,” mentioned Basnet, who additionally serves on the IUCN’s Otter Specialist Group.
Camera lure picture of Asian small-clawed otters bounding by mangroves in southern Thailand. Image courtesy of CEG-KMUTT
Targeted conservation motion
To examine how southern Thailand’s otters are faring, the researchers surveyed a complete space of seven,150 sq. kilometers (2,760 sq. miles), comprising mangroves, coastal peat swamp, agriculture and aquaculture, and human settlements and transport networks between 2016 and 2020. They deployed digicam traps at 1,137 areas: 934 on the Andaman Sea coast and 203 alongside the Gulf of Thailand, inserting them close to otter latrines the place doable to extend the chance of detection.
They additionally evaluated the otter prey provide at every location on the Andaman coast by sampling close by watercourses for fish and crabs and interviewing native fishermen about their catches.
The staff discovered that the larger-bodied smooth-coated otter dominated alongside the Andaman Sea on the east coast, the place extra pure habitat stays and the place there’s usually much less improvement strain in comparison with the Gulf of Thailand. In distinction, small-clawed otters have been discovered to be extra prevalent within the gulf, alongside the west coast.
Basnet mentioned a purpose for the discrepancies between the east and west coast findings may point out competitors between the species. “The smooth-coated otter, being bigger and inclined in direction of bigger prey, holds dominance over the small-clawed otter,” she mentioned. “Their occupation of extra in depth pure habitats additionally hints at potential variations of their most popular prey species. Smooth-coated otters are inclined to favor bigger fish as their main prey, whereas small-clawed otters lean in direction of crustaceans, fostering their coexistence.”
According to the research, the smaller otters have been strongly related to the presence of aquaculture ponds. The researchers recommend this might point out they’re avoiding competitors for prey by raiding fish and shrimp aquaculture ponds — a extremely dangerous conduct that can lead to retaliation from disgruntled operators who view otters as a risk to their livelihoods.
Addressing these types of conflicts may grow to be crucial for the long-term survival of otters as local weather change continues to decrease the standard of their habitat and pure prey populations. To this finish, the staff mixed their camera-trap knowledge with computer-modeling approaches to determine precedence areas the place they suggest administration to cut back threats by focused conservation motion.
A subject assistant notes the placement of digicam traps arrange in potential otter habitat. Image by Anucha Kamjing.
The authors recommend measures equivalent to enhancing water high quality, lowering collisions on roads by imposing velocity limits in otter-rich areas, and introducing regionally managed land-use zoning to protect the integrity of current otter habitats. Naruemon additionally mentioned it is going to be essential for presidency departments to work alongside communities to facilitate peaceable coexistence with otters.
The staff additionally produced a “conservation significance” map that units out areas of optimum otter habitat that coincide with low ranges of risk. These optimum otter zones are concentrated alongside the less-disturbed Andaman Sea coast, significantly within the provinces of Krabi and Trang. Notably, fewer than 20% of those areas are at the moment afforded any type of safety, the research says, highlighting the necessity for targeted conservation consideration and monitoring.
Basnet, who has studied smooth-coasted otters in Nepal, mentioned it could be nice to copy the Thailand research in additional international locations to determine conservation wants and administration actions for otters. She additionally famous that using digicam traps may additionally make clear how otters are interacting with different wildlife inside their setting.
Having came upon the place otters wish to stay in southern Thailand, Naruemon and her colleagues are actually eager to learn the way many there are by conducting inhabitants density research. They’re additionally gathering fecal samples from wild otters to make genetic comparisons with otters confiscated as pets in Thailand and different international locations like Japan and Indonesia to find hotspots of searching and trafficking.
“The most important purpose is to create a zoning administration plan for otters in southern Thailand,” Naruemon mentioned. “This research is step one … then now we have to reply different inquiries to fill the hole in information about Thailand’s otters.”
Carolyn Cowan is a employees author for Mongabay. Follow her on 𝕏, @CarolynCowan11.
Banner picture: An albino smooth-coated otter, with pink eyes, nostril and ft, photographed by digicam lure in southern Thailand. Image courtesy of CEG-KMUTT.
Tantipisanuh, N., Chutipong, W., Kamjing, A., Dachyosdee, U., & Ngoprasert, D. (2023). Assessing results of panorama modifications and figuring out precedence areas for 2 Asian otters in coastal wetlands. Global Ecology and Conservation, 48, e02760. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2023.e02760
Basnet, A., Ghimire, P., Timilsina, Y. P., & Bist, B. S. (2020). Otter analysis in Asia: Trends, biases and future instructions. Global Ecology and Conservation, 24, e01391. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01391
Richards, D. R., & Friess, D. A. (2015). Rates and drivers of mangrove deforestation in Southeast Asia, 2000-2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(2), 344-349. doi:10.1073/pnas.1510272113
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Animals, Aquaculture, Biodiversity, Camera Trapping, Coastal Ecosystems, Conservation, Conservation Technology, Endangered Species, Environment, Forests, Freshwater Animals, Habitat Degradation, Human-wildlife Conflict, Mammals, Mangroves, Marine Ecosystems, Pet Trade, Poaching, Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation
Asia, Southeast Asia, Thailand