Published 9 December 2009

Otters feel the heat in Southeast Asia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 9th December 2009—Otters and some species of wild cats are at serious risk in Southeast Asia, according to a recent meeting of small carnivore experts in Bangkok. 

Analysis of camera-trap records suggests otters have disappeared from parts of their former range in Southeast Asia. © TRAFFIC  

Their conclusion was based on an analysis of thousands of camera-trap records that helped map the regional distribution of many small carnivore species. Some, like otters, have apparently disappeared from parts of their former range.

“Otters, appear to be in serious trouble in parts of Asia where they have been hunted out to supply the demand for skins,” said Chris Shepherd, Acting Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. 

“It is absolutely essential that conservation efforts are stepped up in places like Thailand, currently a stronghold for otters and other small carnivores.” 

The intensive workshop, held from 23-27 November, was convened by biologists from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the University of Louisville, and Kasetsart University, and brought together researchers from organizations working in the region, including members of the IUCN-SSC Cat Specialist, Otter Specialist and Small Carnivore Specialist Groups. 

They acknowledged that too little is known about the status and conservation needs of small carnivores in Southeast Asia. 

“One of the important results from this meeting is that it is clear more research is needed,” said George Gale, a biologist at KMUTT. 

“This is particularly true for species that spend most of their time in trees or in wetlands—places where researchers simply don’t spend much time looking.” 

Small carnivores serve an important ecological role in tropical wet and dry forests and wetlands. Some species may be indicators of healthy forest, while others are resilient to habitat disturbance. However, as a group, they receive relatively little conservation attention compared to larger flagship species like Tigers and elephants. 

In Thailand there are 31 species of small carnivores belonging to seven families including the familiar cats (Felidae) and dogs (Canidae), but also lesser known groups such as the viverrids (a family that includes civets and linsangs) and mustelids (a family that includes otters and weasels). 

Some members of the cat, viverrid, and mustelid families appear to be at high risk of extinction in the region. 

Workshop participants encouraged Thailand to develop a National Small Carnivore Action Plan. This would include development of research methods, increased public awareness, monitoring of hunting, measures to reduce illegal domestic and international trade and enhanced legal protection for several species.