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.

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