Wild Otters with Katrine: Blog 6

We have recently introduced an otter discovery walk to the public. We have people from all ages join us on our surveys where we collect data for the project ensuring otter survival. Here we use a GPS to mark otter activity, and we explain to them along the way the habitat and ecology of otters. We also carry small zip lock bags which we collect scat in from varies species. The participants collect a scat, and then when we return to the base we talk them through a scat analysis. This allows them to get an insight into the work we do in the field, and in the lab. I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to people about our projects, and it is great to see people taking an interest as well. Along each survey, there is always litter caught in the mangroves and floating around in the water. People can then see the damage that plastic is causing in the environment and the massive waste problem that we have here. Magnifying glasses are taken for those who want them on the survey so they can get a closer look at the otter scat, or other small scale interests on the transect. Sieves allow people to look at benthic macro-invertebrates in the surrounding waters and see the biodiversity on and off the land.

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This month we have had a large number of interns join the team, my role includes managing their work and ensuring they are getting the most out of their time here. During the week I check up on them to ensure they are managing with the work and give those help when required.  We have created a booklet to be given to interns upon arrival containing important information that is required for their stay here at Wild Otters. I have created a map, allowing them to navigate their way around the island.

During a survey earlier in the month we came across a Russell’s viper, this is one of India’s ‘Big Four’. These venomous snakes are responsible for the largest number of medically significant human snake bites. We spotted it from a distance, and walked away in the other direction, ensuring that we did not disturb it.

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We have a survey off the island where we know that otters are present. There has been conflict here between the otter family and stray dogs; due to this, a pup was sadly lost. A significant amount of human activity also takes place here; a digger was used to remove vegetation along the bund. In doing so, the den sadly caved in forcing the otters to relocate. We have been unsuccessful in finding the new den, however, the defecating areas have fresh scat meaning they are still present. To find out if the family has suffered from further losses, I set up a camera trap facing one of the defecating areas. Hopefully, over the next few days, we are able to capture footage of the family and establish how many members are remaining.

The company who came to film us are called Eco Champions for Goa. There are a total of six people/organisations, including us, that were named Eco Champions and had a short film produced about them. On Sunday 17th, the director or founder of each organisation attended an event set up by the company, I accompanied the director of Wild Otters to the event. The companies were all introduced and the work that is completed within each organisation was explained. It was encouraging to meet individuals interested in the same field, doing incredible work for Goa and in turn the planet. For example, someone conducted research for National Geographic and has been undertaking a reforestation project in the Western Ghats. Another company owned the first zero-waste shop in Goa, and conducts many projects to help minimise waste such as beach cleans. The event was a chance for us to network and collaborate ideas between organisations, allowing for larger impacts on the environment. We plan to begin camera trapping for pangolins within the land that another company is based, allowing us to expand our research for this endangered species. It was an experience to be part of the discussion between Wild Otters and companies, having an input in future plans and the projects we can undertake together.

This blog will the last one to come from my university placement year with Wild Otters. The past six months have flown by; it has been an unforgettable experience. Before I began my placement here, my experience in the practical side of conservation was not great, neither was my knowledge of field skills. When I look at my abilities now, I have surpassed the skills I thought I would learn here. Not only am I familiar with these skills, but I am able to conduct them on my own. I feel that I am so much more confident in conducting fieldwork, to the point where I train other people. Alongside fieldwork such as surveys and camera trapping, I have spent much time within the field base inputting this data. It is so important to be able to process the data and understand it, as well as collecting it. From my previous blogs, you can clearly see the variety of activities I have taken part in, and how my role and responsibilities have increased as well. Choosing to have a placement year is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Alongside the valuable skills I have gained, I have had the pleasure of meeting incredible people doing amazing work for a vulnerable species. I hope you have enjoyed following my journey as much as I have enjoyed undertaking it. I started this placement year alone, and I finish it with an incredible group of individuals.

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Wild Otters with Katrine: Month 5

We are starting new projects here focused on different species, we are starting with Civets then moving onto Mongooses, Porcupines and other species found here on the island. Outside the field base we are always finding fresh Civet scat, so we know that there are individuals inhabiting the surrounding area. Signs of their activity are frequently found on surveys along the mangroves. We also capture them occasionally on camera traps, most often it is the Common Palm Civet. There are three species of Civet here on the island: Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica), Brown Palm Civet (Paradoxurus jerdoni) and Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). We want to begin by placing camera traps so we can get an understanding of their habitat and behavioural activity. Before doing so, it is important to see what information is available that could aid us in our studies. I have been reading papers on the various species of Civets, and their habitat and ecology. This is to help me in choosing locations for the camera traps. Research displayed that there is very little existing literature on Civet species. This may be due to them being listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, therefore, not requiring research as their populations are sustaining. I have devised questions that we can potentially answer through research, allowing us to gain a greater understanding of these elusive species. We placed a camera trap in the jungle, with chunks of chicken left as bait. The camera was checked two days later, and we captured two different Civets that had visited the site. This allowed us to understand their size, and in turn how to place the camera traps. The footage showed that placing the camera trap 30cm above the ground should sufficiently capture Civets.

My responsibilities have increased over the past month. I am now in charge of the camera traps on and off the island. This involves me regularly checking the camera traps to ensure the settings and placement is correct, so that we are recording the data required. Each camera trap is checked every fifteen days, I replace the batteries if the charge is below 50% and I always switch the SD card. This allows for a constant flow of footage that can be catalogued and analysed. We recently had a problem with a camera trap, so I had to switch it with another. Before doing so, I tested the replacement camera trap at the base ensuring it was working sufficiently, and then took it out into the field. When a new camera trap is set up, it is checked after 48 hours to ensure it is working and there are no problems. If other problems arise such as human disruption, lack of activity or other factors, we consider moving it to a new location. With the recorded footage, I analyse it by looking at the number of otter videos in comparison to videos containing other species. It is also important to look at the number of false trippings, and if the settings or placement needs to be changed. I look at otter activity and behaviour, for example comparing activity at night to during the day. Through camera traps, we monitor the various otter families on the island allowing us to see how the pups are doing. Threats are also identified, for example, we have footage of feral dogs attacking otters in their den.

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Another responsibility I have recently acquired is being the lead surveyor. We have 14 surveys on the island, each of which needs to be surveyed every 10-15 days. In order to ensure this is completed, I have created a timetable where I have split the surveys into two groups, and one group must be completed each week. I created the two groups based on lengths on the surveys, and time taken to complete so that there is a balance between both weeks. When we have a new member joining the team, I take them on a survey teaching them how to record otter activity through a GPS and survey sheet. After each survey, the data collected is placed on a spreadsheet, which in turn is used to create maps on otter activity. Dens that are found during surveys are marked, allowing us to understand where the otters are located within the island.

With such biodiversity on the island, we want to understand more about each species. On surveys, we pass different scats from different creatures. We have started to collect the scat, and conduct scat analyses’. This allows us to understand their diet, and in turn, what the interspecies competition is. To firstly understand how a scat analysis is conducted, we used a hyena scat found in South Goa. This enabled us to familiarise ourselves with the steps, and which tools work best. Now we have a protocol for the analysis, we can conduct them with participants and integrate it into workshops we hold in schools for example. We are starting new projects with schools in an attempt to educate them about their environmental surrounds. The aim is to teach them about the ecosystem, and the importance of preserving nature. Through talks, and outdoor activities we hope to engage them and get the kids interested in their surrounds. Projects we are conducting include: pitfall traps, bird box creation, insect hotel and flora identification walks. We visited a school earlier this week called The Learning Centre, which has a different style of teaching aimed at children who are differently abled. With the teaching staff, we devised suitable projects for the students; these should hopefully take place over the next couple of weeks.

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I recently spent a few days in the jungle in Belgaum, Karnataka. The landscape differs so much from the one I am used to here on Chorao, it was an amazing experience seeing wildlife that I had not seen before, the Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) was a personal highlight. The purpose of the trip was to check camera traps that had been previously set up to obtain footage of Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus). Their habitat is typically found in river environments such as the ones found in forests. Therefore, we set up two camera traps at the edge of the river facing active defecating areas. Unfortunately, only one of the cameras recorded footage of the species, we have changed the angle and sensitivity setting of the camera trap that did not obtain footage. Alongside Asian small-clawed otters we captured many other species, including the Ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii) and Gaur (Bos gaurus). You can see in the photo below how the Asian small-clawed otter is significantly smaller than the Smooth-coated otter.

This has been an enjoyable month, with many visits and contacts from journals and wildlife bodies wishing to collaborate. We had a company stay for a few days earlier in the month to film the work that takes place here. They filmed me explaining the use of a camera trap, and the process we go through when changing it every 15 days. I and another colleague took them on a survey, pointing out otter activity. It was a lot of fun taking part in this project; the final video is available online allowing anyone to watch it and understand Wild Otters. We had a journalist visit from Mongabay who was interested in the technologies we use, so I explained how the company uses GPS devices and the limitations we are presented with when conducting research with electronic devices. With many new projects starting and further people visiting to learn more about our work, it is going to be an exciting final month of placement.

Wild Otters with Katrine: Month 4

As I continue to run the Twitter account, it is important to check the analytics and ensure that the content is capturing an audience. The tables below will allow you to get an idea of how the twitter page has changed since I have been running it. I started from August as that is when I arrived, and the previous months were pretty much inactive so don’t provide much comparison. I got the twitter log in half way through September, and you can see how the number of people visiting our profile is increasing. This is due to us being more active on the website, therefore, appearing in more searches, appearing on peoples timelines more, and in general being present.  A potential impression means a tweet has been delivered to a Twitter account’s timeline. Not everyone who receives a tweet will read it, but it’s possible they could. Potential reach and impressions give you an idea of the overall potential size of a conversation. As you can see this has drastically increased. On the first Monday of this month, December 3rd, the number of impressions gained that day was 814. That was significantly higher than average, but shows it is possible to reach an audience of that size. On average this month we have gotten 176 impressions per day compared to 3 when I began in August.

This month we have had many new members join the team. I have played a role in ensuring they understand the work here, and the various research methods that we use. This has involved leading surveys, and showing them how we record otter presence, how the data is catalogued and what can be implied through otter behaviour.  I have also taught them how to use a camera trap; part of this involves setting up a camera trap with them in the jungle and letting them decide on the placement on settings. When the camera trap is collected a couple of days later, they can asses and the footage and decide how they could have improved the set up. Aside from the survey methods, it is important that interns and volunteers understand Smooth-coated otter habitat and ecology. This is taught through presentations, and taking them to sites so they can see dens and other otter signs.

I have spent a significant amount of time visiting camera traps that we have placed, doing routine checks. Every 10 days the camera is checked, this involves checking the battery life and seeing if they need replaced. The SD card is switched, allowing the recorded data to be catalogues. If the previous footage showed that the settings were not sufficient, they are changed. For example, if the camera is picking up a fly going past then the sensitivity settings are too high so need changing. The camera would be triggered too often, draining the battery and filling up the SD card quickly. When checking on the camera trap, you need to ensure that you left it in the same position that you found it, unless it is being changed. Once you have switched the camera back on, it must be placed in the steal case and chained up swiftly to that the camera isn’t using its memory and battery filming you instead of wildlife.

An IUCN/SSC Certified course on Otter habitat and ecology occurred from the 13th-17th December. I led the second day teaching the participants about the GPS device, from its history to its application in conservation. Being told information is half the process of learning, once I finished the presentation I took them outside to practice with the GPS devices. This allowed them to play around with the devices, and understand how they work. I also took part in leading the camera trapping session, explaining the various settings and how they work. During the workshop there was a presentation on otters of the world. I found this very informative, whilst I know a significant amount about Smooth-coated otters, my knowledge of the other species is not as great. It was interesting to compare Smooth-coated otter habitat and ecology to that of other species. When I compare my role in workshops now to when I first got here there is a drastic change. I’ve gone from being a participant, to helping the participants.

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I have previously mentioned in another blog using the GPS to create a map of the survey routes. This is being made using Garmin Basecamp. The map below is how the data looks when it is first uploaded, the blue flags are the waypoints marking otter signs. The green lines are either track logs, or lines that Garmin Basecamp creates joining the ends of track logs. As you can see from the other map, I have managed to control the maze created by the various lines, allowing the survey routes to be evident. During the workshop we visited the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary to look at Asian small-clawed otter habitat. This allowed for comparison between the two species of otter through variation in their habitat and ecology. The participants were split into two groups, and using a GPS they tracked the route and marked waypoints where we saw signs. Once we had returned from the trip, I taught them how to upload the data onto Garmin Basecamp and use the various features to create a neater map. I also showed them how information recorded on the GPS can be used in Google Earth and ArcGIS.

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My knowledge and ability to identify flora and fauna has majorly increased since being here. Before starting my placement, my knowledge of species, especially those within India, was not great. Now when I’m on surveys I can identify birds, butterflies and insects. Also through camera trap footage I have learnt the various species of civet, mongoose, alongside a variety of other species.

Wild Otters with Katrine: Month 3

A new survey location has been added, it is off the island looking at a new part of Goa. Within the sector, there is a den; in comparison to other dens, we have found this one is larger in size. It sits on the edge of stagnant water, in an area with little human activity. Three camera traps have been set up along the survey route. The first is on a small island where there is an active defecating area; we have frequently captured the dominant male otter returning to the site to mark its territory. In a family, the dominant male or female with routinely return to a defecating area to ensure that their scent is present and a new family of otters does not intrude. The other two cameras are placed within the den, allowing us to collect footage of the otters in the area that they feel safest in. When visiting the site we have to ensure that we are quiet and do not seem a threat to the otters, therefore, we are quiet and tread lightly. Once we are closer to the den we talk softly to let the otters know we are present. The otters sound an alarm call, and then leave the den. We visit the site roughly once a week and the otters have begun to get used to our presence. Sometimes they stay in the water or nearby ground watching us, other times they swim away and return later on.

On the last occasion that we visited the den, we saw the adult female leave with a pup in her mouth. She dived underwater with the tiny youngling and disappeared. We then proceeded to change the SD card and batteries from the camera traps within the den. Once we had finished sorting out the camera traps we sat away from the den viewing the footage obtained on the SD cards collected. During this time the adult otters returned twice and collected two other pups, meaning the total litter size for this family is three. This shows that the otters felt comfortable enough with us to leave their pups in the den whilst we were present. It was incredible to see such young pups, and watch the adult female take them underwater in her mouth. The large den now makes sense, for a litter of that size a big den is required. Samples for eDNA collection are also being taken here. The chance of detecting eDNA is greatest here, the sample is being collected next to a den where otters are continually entering and leaving.

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As I approach the end of the third month, I am confident and comfortable leading surveys and explaining otter habitat in depth to interns and volunteers that are staying with us. When looking at camera trapping footage, I am able to understand otter behaviour and identify their sex along with their general age. I am continuing to catalogue camera trap footage that has been recorded. As we are in mating season, I have been paying particular attention to the females. To see if a female is pregnant you can look at her size, and see if it has increased in comparison to previous camera trapping footage. It is also important to look at mammary development. When the female is ready to give birth she stays in the den and will stay in the den for a few days after the pup(s) are born. Therefore, if we have no footage of a female we can presume that she is giving birth.

Pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world, yet many people have never heard of them. It has been estimated that over the past 10 years, over one million individuals have been illegally traded. If action is not taken soon, the species will soon be extinct. Pangolins suffer greatly from data deficiency. Literature that exists on them focuses on individuals in captivity, rather than those in the wild. Little is known about their habitat and ecology. Without information, conservation action plans cannot be formed to sustain and protect the population. There are eight species of Pangolin in the world and two are in India, the Indian Pangolin and Chinese Pangolin. Wild Otters has a second base in Jor, Maharashtra where pangolin research takes place. To gain an understanding of the elusive species, we wish to place camera traps randomly but opportunistically near termite mounds in unprotected areas in Maharashtra. The data collected will allow us to fill in the blanks with regard to data deficiency, and create a conservation strategy. In order for the project to begin, we are applying for grants that will enable us to purchase the camera traps. IDEA WILD is an organisation that gives grants to causes that they believe will benefit conservation. I have written the grant proposal for the project, and it has been sent to Idea Wild, we are currently awaiting a response.

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To experience the Pangolin habitat, and gain a deeper understanding of the project that I had written a grant proposal for, I travelled to the base. It is located in Jor, Maharashtra within the stunning mountains. Local transport was used to travel to the base, enabling me to immerse myself into the culture. It was fascinating to be in the habitat of the elusive pangolin, and observe signs of their activity. Using their tail, pangolins hang from tree branches to strip away bark from the tree trunk, revealing insects underneath. Pangolins are insectivorous, their diet primarily consists of species of termites and ants occasionally supplemented by other species of insects, such as larvae. The image below clearly displays bark stripped from a tree by a pangolin. I learned that the term promising is used for termite mounds that are currently untouched by mammals but had the potential to be disturbed in the future. The termite mound to the left is an example of this, as you can see it is untouched so is available as a food source in the future for pangolins.

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As I reach the halfway point of my placement, I am grateful for all the incredible experiences I have had so far and look forward to what lies on the horizon.

Wild Otters with Katrine: Month 2

Tourist season is right around the corner, so to ensure we make the most of it, a marketing team has been created. By being a member of the team I get to see how this side of an organisation functions. Social media is the most effective way of advertising, posts can be viewed by a plethora of people that could not be reached by any other means. I have been given the Twitter handle; here I am regularly updating the page with information about the company and making connections with other conservation organisations. We are in the process of creating a campaign against plastic straws; this is perfect timing as during tourist season a vast amount will be used. Many of the premises’ here are not aware of the environmental impact plastic has. To combat the problem Wild Otters are creating a campaign to raise awareness. A leaflet will be given to establishments highlighting the key problems surrounding plastic straws. If a premises stops using plastic straws, they will be given a sticker that they can display to show they are plastic straw free. I am in the process of designing the sticker which will be given to the businesses. When approaching each place we need to ensure that we have a list of alternatives and where they can source them from, which will make the switch from plastic to a substitute easier.

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Wild Otters team.

On October 14th the Wild Otters shop was opened. Ensuring the shop was ready for the opening required a large amount of effort from all members of the team. I took part in decorating the shop, for example I created stencils of various animals to be used on the outside, and took part in the overall design of the interior. The shop is located at the Madel ferry point on the island. Around this area there is a great amount of litter, we spent a significant amount of time cleaning it up, ensuring it did not enter the river and nearby mangroves. A significant amount of time has been taken discussing the type of opportunities the company offers, such as internships and volunteering. I have been involved in these discussions, deciding on the style of programmes and factors surrounding it, such as the price and length of programmes. The process of creating the shop and watching everyone’s ideas come together has been fun.

I attended a book launch for ‘Tea with Tigers’ by Dr AJT Johnsingh. He is an Indian vertebrate ecologist, his study on the Dhole was the first study conducted by an Indian scientists on a free ranging animal, making his work ground-breaking.  After introducing his book, four different people spoke who are large influencers in conservation within India. Once they each gave their own talks, they took part in a discussion. It was fascinating to see how people interested in the same area have various opinions. Topics spoken about included how the tiger population within India is on the increase. Whilst this is good news, there are concerns as to whether there is a sufficient amount of land for them, as tigers cover a vast range during their life. Conservation problems in Goa were also discussed, such as concerns over local fishermen surviving with the presence of commercial fishing activity.

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One of the eDNA sampling sites.

All living organisms leave traces of DNA within their environment, reflecting their activity and presence. This DNA may be in the form of faeces, gametes, urine alongside many other potential sources. Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be intracellular or extracellular, due to it being characterised by a complex combination of mitochondrial, nuclear or chloroplast DNA. Therefore, this means eDNA can also result from decomposing dead organisms, as well as living ones. Species can be detected regardless of their stage of life. Biotic (fungi, bacteria, etc) and abiotic (temperature, acidity, etc) factors can degrade the DNA once it is released in the environment. The degradation of eDNA is slowed down by cold and dry conditions. Environmental DNA can be stored in the permafrost for hundreds of thousands of years. The persistence of eDNA in marine sediments, depending on environmental conditions, varies from months to thousands of years. Aquatic environments do not provide good conditions for eDNA to persist, causing it to only be detected for a few days.

A project is being carried out here using eDNA to detect if otters are present in an area. I am assisting the researcher in carrying out this investigation. The focus is on two habitats, one is fresh water whilst the other is saline. My role includes helping with the collection of samples in the field, alongside the decontamination of equipment. Ensuring that each piece of equipment is decontaminated properly is essential for the project. Otter DNA could be present on an item, if we do not decontaminate the item correctly, then it will be taken to a new site. This would then create incorrect data as otter DNA will be identified in the sample, when there might not have been any present.

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Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) caught on the camera trap.

Over the final weekend of the month we held a workshop called ‘Wildlife Research Techniques’. Here participants learnt various skills that are essential when working in the field with wildlife. The first day focused on camera trapping, after a talk on how to use camera traps, they practised using them outside. This gave everyone a chance to understand which settings are best for different scenarios, and how each angle captures a different view point. Once they felt confident using the camera trap, each group chose a species that they aimed to capture, and they set up the camera trap in the jungle. On the second day, they learnt the skills behind using a GPS. A survey simulation allowed them to understand how a GPS device is used in the field. On the final day they collected their camera traps and analysed the footage that had been captured. The group that I was supervising were focusing on wild boar, due to their correct placement they managed to get footage of a wild boar. Alongside this, a civet cat was also caught on camera.

 

Wild Otters with Katrine: Month 1

I am passionate about the environment and the species within it, especially those requiring research in order to maintain and sustain the population. Gaining experience in this area is essential for job seeking in the future. Therefore, my placement year has led me to a company called Wild Otters. They specialise in otter research, which is then used to form plans and policies regarding conservation issues in India. Wild Otters was founded in September 2014, with the aim of securing the future of otters. The organisation is based in Goa, with new projects taking place in Maharashtra and Karnataka. They play an essential role in facilitating otter conservation in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Through research, they have been able to collect data on the distribution and habitat preference of otters, alongside the threats they face providing clarity on their conservation needs. Potential otter habitat overlaps a considerable amount with fishing villages, therefore diet analysis’ are conducted to provide an insight on whether the species’ consume commercially important fish. Ongoing projects include den usage by smooth-coated otters, allowing us to understand the use of mangroves alongside humans. Little is known about Asian small-clawed otters in the wild, their project studying behaviour and adaptations is the first kind of research regarding this topic. There are also ongoing programs educating the younger generations, these often take place at the schools.           

There are thirteen species of otter in the world, three are found in India, and two are in Goa. These are Smooth-coated Otter (Lutra perspicillata) and Small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus). Smooth-coated otters are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List as a result of population decline due to exploitation and habitat loss. They are typically found on lowlands and floodplains. An increase in human population has led to an increase in reliance on natural resources, causing the prey base for otters to be inadequate. Foraging grounds are generally mangroves, peat swamp forests and large lakes and rivers. Small-clawed otters are also classified as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List, due to similar factors. This highlights the impact of habitat loss across the ecosystem. The population is thought to have declined by over 30% in the past 30 years. As a research person within the company, I will learn data collection methods, data entry, camera trapping, GPS, mapping, data analyses and methods of presenting data. Alongside this my role includes: assisting with workshops, assisting research associates, improve the field base, develop merchandise and assist with social media. My first three weeks here will consist of training, ensuring that I am confident in my role. I have been provided with a checklist that will allow me to tick off each feature when I feel comfortable.

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Entrance to the field base.

My eighteen-hour journey to Goa began at Heathrow, with a layover at Mumbai. India is a fascinating country filled with vibrant colours. Arriving in the final month of the monsoon season means the vegetation is at its fullest, flourishing across Goa. The monsoon season is characterised by heavy rainfall, which can be problematic when working in the field. There is a high diversity of flora, coupled with a high diversity of fauna. The field base is located on Chorao Island, which is situated along the Mandovi River. Within Goa, there are 17 islands, and Chorao Island is the biggest located only 5 kilometres away from Panaji, the state capital. The ecosystem here is unique, housing the majority of mangrove species within Goa. Chorao Island is typically accessed by ferry, there is the possibility to drive, but the journey is considerably longer. White-tailed sea eagles are among some of the species located when taking the ferry. When entering the field base you are engulfed by plants. The biodiversity surrounding it makes it the ideal setting for conservation work to take place.

When I first arrived, I took part in a workshop named ’Investigating Biodiversity’; this is a three-day workshop for short stay volunteers, but by taking part it allowed me to visit some of the main sites where research is conducted. It also enabled me to familiarise myself with the area, and the equipment used in the field. The first site was a grassland ecosystem, with a small pond located within it. By identifying benthic macro-invertebrates, we can assess the ponds sensitivity to pollution and gain an understanding of the pond’s health. Other activities that took place during the workshop included creating transects, using various lights to attract insects and herpetofauna surveys. Khazan lands are anthropogenic agro-ecological and economic systems which appear to be architectured by the first Neolithic coastal settlers. The Khazans indicate socio-ecological compartmentalisation between estuarine fishing communities and the upland agro-pastoralist. These unique practices are culturally significant and sustain otter populations. By speaking to a local fisherman, a different perspective is gained leading to a deeper understanding.

I also spent time visiting camera trap sites, learning how to check the footage to see if any otter activity has occurred. Whilst looking at camera traps, it is also important to ensure the settings are correct, for example, the exposure may be too high, trippings must also be made note of. Camera traps capture wildlife in their natural environment, with minimal harm and invasion on the environment. When the memory card has been collected from the camera trap, the data needs inputting into a table. From this you can calculate how often otters are recorded.

In June, Wild Otters began a research project named ‘Ensuring Otter Survival’, I will assist them in collecting data. The aim is to map otter presence on a satellite map to see how otter habitat has changed over recent years. Data has been collected during previous years and will be compared to present day data. There is a total of 17 grids being analysed in the study, 14 are on Chorao Island whilst 3 are off it. Otter presence will be recorded through camera traps and field surveys. There are factors impacting where camera traps are left, for example, last year four of the company’s camera traps were stolen, so these areas are avoided. Surveys are used to increase the accuracy of electronic data collected and record otter activity. Defecating areas (DA) are the most commonly documented otter activity. A scale is used to record how recent the activity was, 1 (1-48 hours), 2 (2-7 days) and 3 (7+ days).  The colour of the faeces indicates how old it is, alongside the potency of the smell. The whiter the colour, the older it is.  Spraint (S) is also recorded using the same scale, defecating areas are regularly used by many otters, whereas spraint is a one-off occurrence. When either of these is recorded, a point of entry must be found, this is often a slope for the otter to climb up. Here further evidence of activity could be found such as prints, sightings must also be recorded.

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Although the photo is out of focus, it shows one of the otters spotted.

During my second day working on the survey we found spraint that was recency 1, this meant otters had been active in the area during the past 24 hours. We then spotted two otters in the water half way through the survey, it was truly an amazing moment. When watching the otters we were crouched down, they thought they were bigger than us so came right up to the river bed to get a closer look. It was wonderful to see them in the wild and hear the different noises they were making. When they realised we were much bigger they swam away, and we watched them swim around the river for a further two minutes before disappearing.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first month here, and look forward to seeing what future months bring. Being here has allowed me to see the various aspects of conservation, and the steps to successful action plans.