Otters in Nepal | Smooth Otter | Asian Small Clawed | Common Otter
June 20, 2022
Otters in Nepal | Smooth Otter | Asian Small Clawed Otter | Eurasian Otter or Common Otter
Nepal is home to three species of Otters— The Asian Small-Clawed Otter (Aonyx / Amblonyx Cinerea), the smooth-coated Otter (Lutra perscipillata), and the Eurasian Otter (Aonyx cineria).
Four species of Otters are known to occur in Asia. They have a common character, so it is difficult to differentiate them. The key characteristics to look for are in (rhinarium), the webbing and claws of the front paws, the flatness of the trail, and group-living or solitary behavior. Color, size, and behavior are variable throughout their range. Although otters are often difficult to see, their signs are unmistakable. Otters deposit piles of scat (spraint) in conspicuous areas of their territories where other Otters are likely to discover them. Major landmarks such as stream and river intersections, large logs, riverine islands, etc. are often marked with Otter spraint. One and the same site is often revisited frequently. The more social Otters often develop communal toilet sites that are very conspicuous. Otter spraint usually consists mostly of fish scales, crustacean remains, and some vertebrate bones.
Otter tracks show a five-toe impression in a stellate pattern. Most Otter tracks may show claw impressions and sometimes the webbing if the ground conditions are just right. Small-clawed Otter tracks are smaller and narrower than the rest due to the greater length of the middle digits of the front paw. Small-clawed Otter front paw tracks also show no claw impressions and no webbing.
According to a report published by the International Otter Survival Fund, at least 10 Otter pelts are found for every tiger pelt recorded. The situation is worse in the case of Nepal. According to a recent report published by researchers based on the seizure data from governmental and other sources, 755 otter pelts were confiscated in Nepal between 1989 and 2017. As the report is based only on the confiscation records, there is a high probability that the species is facing a tremendous threat from the illegal trade.
The Annapurna Conservation Area, Makalu Barun, Chitwan, Bardiya, and Shuklaphanta national parks are potential homes to this species of otters. Detailed species locations are only present with reference to some sites of Bardiya National Park and Shuklaphanta National Park. The four major river basins of Nepal: Koshi, Narayani, Karnali, and Mahakali Otter occur.
Every year, the last Wednesday of the month of May is celebrated as World Otter. Let’s hope that, following this year’s World Otter Day, we think more about this magnificent animal.
Common Otter in Bardia National Park
Asian Small-Clawed Otter
Aonyx (Amblonyx) Cinerea (Illiger)
The head and body of the Otter measure 450 to 550 mm and tail 250 to 550 mm. smallest of the Oriental Otters, color is dark brown with a tawny or rufous tinge. The edge of the upper lip, chin, side of the neck, and throat are grey or nearly white. Claws are rudimentary, no more than small upstanding spikes. This species is synonymous with Lutra cinera (Illiger), Lutra Leptonyx (Horse field).
The small-clawed otter is the familiar Asian Otter to identify due to its small size (less than two birds the size of the other Asian Otters) and distinctive hand-like front paws with reduced webbing and “fingernails” instead of claws. Small-Clawed otters are very social and communicate using a variety of vocalizations ranging from birdlike chirps to screams. Often a group of up to eighteen individuals will forage together and deposit their spraint in communal toilet sites on dry ground near water. These otters are adaptable and found in rivers, marshes, and sometimes rice fields.
Lutra perspcillate (Geoffroy)
The head and body of the Otters measure 650 to 750 mm and tail 400 to 450 mm. distinguished from the common otter by its smooth sleek coat and the upper border of the naked nose-pad which forms a smooth convex outline. The general color is blackish-brown to light brown, with a rufous tinge. Generally, sides of the neck, chin, and throat are whitish to light brown, with a rufous tinge. Generally, sides of the neck, chin, and throat are whitish. Tail more flattened ventrally and more or less triangular in cross-section.
The smooth otter and the Eurasian otter are the most difficult to distinguish. The two species are larger than the small-clawed otter but beyond this, they are variable in size and color throughout their range. Generally, the smooth otter has a shorter coat and a tail that is more flattened ventrally than the Eurasian otter. The front paws of the smooth otter are heavily clawed and large in proportion to their body; in captivity, these otters do a lot of digging. Smooth otters are usually more social otter spraint is deposited in communal toilet sites and consists largely of fish scales. Smooth otters are found in the southern part of Nepal.
Eurasian Otter or Common Otter
Lutra lutra (Linnaeus)
The head and body of the otter measure 600 to 800 mm and the tail 450 mm. head is flattened and broad with a naked black rhinarium. The upper margin of the nose pad is indented like a flat W. Fur dense and short; grizzled with white tips of the guard hairs. Underside yellowish white; upper lip, sides of head and neck, and throat whitish. This species is synonymous with Mustela Lutra (Linnaeus 1758) and Lutra vulguris (Erxleben) in Nepali it is called by the local name Ownt, in Hindi it is called Pani Kutla.
The Eurasian Otter resembles closely with smooth otter in appearance, but it has a flatter skull, a “three-pointed” upper margin to the rhinarium, a more oval tail in cross-section, and a coarser coat. In Europe, where this otter has been extensively studied, it is relatively unsocial in most habitats and the female alone raises her offspring. Generally, tracks of the Eurasian otter are indistinguishable from those of the smooth otter. Like that of the smooth otter, spraint consists largely of fish scales, but the Eurasian otter is less likely to utilize communal toilet sites or to be observed in groups. The Eurasian otter is found throughout temperate Europe, Asia, and Nepal’s Terai region.
Otters Ecology and Behavior
It is essentially an animal of the lowland riverine forest plain. It is known to thrive in the arid climate of northwestern Indian deserts, and in the dry zone of Madhya Pradesh and the Deccan. If ascends hill ranges from low elevations.
The principal diet of otters is fishes, molluscs, and frogs. Occasionally they come out on land near backwater to prey upon Common teal (Anas crecca), lesser whistling teal (Dendrocygna javanica), little cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger), White-breasted water hen (Amaurornis phoenicurus), Purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio), and Watercock (Gallicrex cinerea).
The smooth otter hunts in flooded fields, creeks, and goes out after fish into the open waters. In the dry lands of midland Nepal, when ponds and streams dry up, the otter shows marked adaptability to a changing environment. During such periods the otter engages itself in hunting like other terrestrial carnivores and lies up in burrows on the hillsides. Fish is their principal food but when fish are waiting they eat whatever they can capture and kill.
In the Bardia district, otters are kept by fishermen and employed to drive fish into the nets. The fisherman of the Narayani zone of Nepal uses them as decoys for capturing Gangetic dolphins (Platanista gangetica). Generally, two or three tame otters are set into the river, and fish, shrimps, and frogs are thrown to them whereupon there ensues a great mewing and splashing; the splashing action attracts the river dolphin which blunders into the trammel nets set to catch them.
Otters Breeding Characteristics
It is likely that 5-10 members of the river otter family form a cohesive group and stay together the entire year, although solitary individuals are sighted along the streams and lakes.
In lowlands of Nepal mating takes place in summer (April – May), but may continue under favorable climate conditions. Sometime early winter (January) and in summer (May-June). This indicates that otters breed twice a year. Successful copulation can take place in water or in land. In wild otters, the author saw copulation taking place exclusively in the water. The smooth otter has a gestation period of 3-4 months. The number of young varies from 1-4 and these are born in a nest made from dry grass or available vegetable materials. The nest may be either above or below ground and may be located in a hollow log a crevice among rocks or in a den dug in a stream bank if it is well concealed. A den may be near water or high up on a hillside away from water.
The cubs are toothless hairless and helpless at birth, and the mother cares for a period of 5-6 weeks. The young ones began to play at 5-6 weeks and exercise outside the nest at 11-12 weeks. They are awkward in the water at first and have to be coaxed by the mother.
Otter Tours in Nepal
Day 01: Fly to Nepaljung and Drive to Bardia National Park
Day 02: Bardia national park
Day 03: Bardia national park
Day 04: Bardia national park
Day 05: Fly back to Kathmandu