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Conserving The Otters Of The World And Their Habitat Through Education




Introduction

Otters are a top predator using both the terrestrial and aquatic environments and their loss has a profound impact on local food webs, biodiversity and habitat relationships. They need good water quality which is essential for all species, including our own, and so they are excellent environmental indicators.

There are 13 species of otter in the world and all are listed in the IUCN Red List. 12 of them are still declining in number as a result of habitat loss, disturbance, pollution and hunting.

But the biggest problem of all is lack of awareness and so IOSF is developing a worldwide programme to encourage education.


South America - Chile

Chinchimén is an organisation in the Valparaiso region of Chile, which works to conserve the native coastal flora and fauna, including marine otters (Lontra felina classified “Endangered”). It was formed in 2001 after Javier Trivelli cared for an otter which had been caught by poachers for fur. They carry out research and education/public awareness and work with local communities and the government to ensure that both the people and environment are taken into consideration when looking at new legislation. Chinchimén brings together interdisciplinary professionals with a love of nature and people to address environmental conflicts.

At the moment their education programme is largely done in the summer and is funded by tourist donations. But they want to start a regular programme with local schools and need to raise funds to cover new educational material and equipment, expenses to visit schools and part-time salary for an educator.


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Asian - Nepal

In Nepal a few otter surveys have been carried out and the major threats are mainly due to loss of wetland habitats. As human population increases, poverty also increases, which leads to increased dependency of people on natural resources.

There is also a considerable threat from the fur trade as hundreds of furs are being sold to Tibet for use in the national dress. The smooth-coated otter (Lutragale perspicillata classified “Vulnerable”) seems to be particularly sought after for these purposes and it is often found in seizures of furs from tigers and other big cats (see figure below – otter furs marked by arrow). This trade is largely driven by poverty.

In May 2017 the Nepalese authorities destroyed more than 4,000 animal skins and other body parts in a clear demonstration against the illegal wildlife trade. The items included rhino horns and skins from tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, snow leopard and 379 otter skins.

As a result of the poverty there is an increase in conflict between otters and people, leading to indiscriminate killing of otters. There is therefore a need to conduct awareness and mitigate fishermen/otter conflict in order to conserve otters, other aquatic fauna and wetland habitats.

Jyoti Bandhari from Tribhuvan University in Pokhara wants to meet with fishermen, trappers/hunters, key informants, experts, nature guides and community-based organisations to discuss with them how they can work together to conserve otters in a sustainable way. She plans to hold a two day seminar to provide training on otter monitoring and watching to show local people the different ecological habitats of otters and their importance to the environment. She will also provide additional training in ways of creating alternative income generating activities, so that dependency on forest and wetland resources will be reduced.

It is only by working with local people that the fur trade can be stopped and public awareness is essential to make them realise the importance of their wildlife, and in particular the otter.


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Europe - Scotland

Although otters are relatively well known to the public in the UK there is still a lack of awareness when it comes to threats. There has been a lot of publicity that otter populations are now “everywhere” after their disastrous drop in numbers in the mid 20th century. And yet according to official data there are only about 10,000 in the whole of the UK - otters breed slowly and so recovery from any population loss is not rapid.

In order to address this problem we need to produce more education material, particularly for young people. Children learn most easily when they are having fun and so games are great educational tools. IOSF produced a children’s education pack “Let’s talk about otters” with information on otters, indoor and outdoor games, puzzles, etc.

However, nowadays children use interactive material on computers to learn many subjects in school and in the home. Our Education Officer and website designer have produced some interactive games which educate, inform and encourage the protection and conservation of otters and our environment. These are available on the website so that they are widely available both in the UK and abroad.

However, there is always a need to add more material which is appropriate to other areas such as remote parts of Africa and Asia.


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IOSF Visits to Remote Schools

Although the education material mentioned above is available on the website we are also developing a programme of visits, particularly in rural parts of the Highlands and Islands. Living on Skye we know how valuable it is to small schools to receive such visits - some schools on the islands have under 10 pupils, such as Struan Primary School on Skye which has four pupils (photo right).

Input from outside educators is rare for these remote schools as travel costs are so high. And yet such visits can really inspire the children and lead to practical conservation and also to more information on otters and their distribution. By using records obtained through this citizen-science it will also encourage people to report more and become more active in conservation. Education is vital if people are to become aware and concerned about conservation and children are often the gateway to community involvement in conservation.

To date we have visited local schools on Skye, the Small Isles and Wester Ross but we want to extend this programme throughout the Highlands and Islands, including Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.


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Team Otther Clubs

We have started a network of Team Otter clubs around the world to raise awareness of the species with children. Team Otter allows children to feel a sense of ownership towards otters and their habitat and a sense of duty to help protect them in the long-term. They will be part of the change; part of the change that will help the long-term survival of otters, other species and the environment.

The various Team Otter clubs will join together and learn all about the species of the world from one another and help otters by raising awareness. Team Otter clubs can run events, including meetings to learn about otters, and raise funds for projects across the world.


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Please put “Team Otter” in the message section.