By Shravan Regret Iyer
Bengaluru: Conservation has its favourites too. With the spotlight firmly on the endangered big cats, the ministry of environment and forest pumps crores into measures to protect them and deploys hundreds of rangers to patrol their habitat.
But in the process, other endangered species like the smaller smooth-coated otters, also known as water dogs, receive scant attention. Several water dogs found in the Cauvery river circling the island of Srirangapatna near Mysuru are under threat from poachers, who lay in wait for them to get their hands on their fur, which has a huge market and fetches them quite a sum.
A semi-aquatic species, otters are distributed across all south Indian major rivers, but unlike the tigers, their numbers have never been established. However, they have been declared an endangered species and are listed under the Wildlife Protection Act.
But sadly the protection they are entitled to is more on paper than on the ground as their numbers are steadily declining across south India with poachers increasingly killing and skinning them to meet the demands of the fur trade. Some estimates say otters contribute to nearly 30 percent of the overall fur trade.
The dip in their population is visible around Srirangapatna too with local villagers, who once saw otter groups often across the island, admitting they are a rare sight now.
While local wildlife enthusiasts say they have sighted a group of six to seven otters making rounds of the island, moving from Bangaradadoddi, Paschima Vahini, Monument, Snanada Ghatta, Water gate, Wellesley bridge, Nimashamba temple, Gosai ghat, Mysore bridge and Saibaba Mandir and back to Bangaradadoddi, they too acknowledge that such sightings are getting rarer by the day.
Some villagers of Srirangapatna claim they recently found remains of a trap used by the poachers to catch these water dogs on the banks of the river. “I found a long metal wire with many fish pieces hooked to it, placed exactly where the otters are known to bask in the sun on the rocks,” says Raghu (name changed), a villager.
Many villagers also report seeing people from outside Srirangapatna frequenting the island with huge bags and metal wires. “These people arrive on the island, especially on the Ranganatittu side towards Sriranapatna, on the pretext of fishing and end up making away with the otters. But sadly there are no forest guards to keep an eye on these poachers,” Raghu regrets.
Pointing out that besides otters, Srirangaptna is also home to many other species such as the bonnet macaque, colonies of flying fox, common palm civet, Indian grey mongoose and the monitor lizard, local wildlife activists want increased patrolling across the island and more protection for the animals it supports.
This story was originally published in Deccan Chronicle May 1, 2016, edition.