1. The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) have all been previously reported from the Indian state of Uttarakhand. However, little information is available about these species’ current distribution in a mountainous region that is subject to increasing human-induced stressors (e.g. hydropower plants, pollution, sand and boulder mining, destructive fishing techniques, poaching).
2. Due to the important role of these otters in structuring riverine food webs (particularly taking account of their roles as top carnivores), it is critical that these animals receive suitable protection in the face of a projected rise in temperature, change in precipitation patterns, and associated river flows in this Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. This study assesses otter distribution in four rivers of Uttarakhand, as a basis for informing future conservation actions.
3. Field surveys were conducted (October 2018 – January 2019) in four Himalayan rivers (reaches of the Kosi, Ramganga, Khoh and Song Rivers), supported by semi-structured interviews (N=379) conducted with members of local communities to ascertain qualitative data on views and perceptions of otter species. In addition, community-based otter awareness camps were organized for local youths (N=105), adults (N=115) and school children (N=256 covering 10 schools). Habitat suitability maps were created using remote sensing data, survey findings and a Geographic Information System (GIS) to provide information about priority river reaches to be targeted for future conservation efforts.
4. This study provides critical interdisciplinary baseline information to guide decision-makers towards developing a targeted, otter-specific conservation program for this important Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. The otter conservation education programs conducted during this study resulted in a proposal to set up a community-based conservation initiative (CBCI) to monitor and report otter sightings from the area, potentially representing a way forward for achieving simultaneous otter conservation and associated ecosystem benefits for local communities.