- With the increasing human pressure on wildlife and its habitat, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, the population of the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), a key carnivore of freshwater ecosystems, is rapidly declining. Reliable information on its abundance and other factors affecting its occurrence is lacking from many parts of its range, hindering development of conservation measures.
- In this paper the findings are presented on relative abundance and habitat parameters associated with the occurrence of the smooth-coated otter in the Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR), India. Information on habitat structure, spraint (faeces) sites, and otter signs (e.g. footprints, spraints), were recorded in each 500 m section of five rivers in different seasons. The search covered 380, 100 m × 15 m plots laid along the shoreline of the river banks. The importance of different habitat features influencing habitat selection was assessed using an ordination technique.
- In the CTR, the presence of otters was recorded from the three river systems that were relatively undisturbed and supported potential microhabitats for otters. The relative abundance of otters in the Reserve varied between 0.3 and 0.48 individuals km-1.
- Occurrence of otters in the region was governed by the presence of habitat features such as rocky and sandy river stretches with gentle bank-slopes, bank-side vegetation serving as escape cover, and slow water current. Relatively narrow rivers with several streams joining the main course and with a large number of fallen dead trees were favoured.
- The reservoir was an unsuitable habitat for otters owing to its steep bank-slopes (47.38° ± 1.69°) and deep water (6.99 m ± 30.46 m). Various forms of fishing activities, followed by livestock grazing, removal of sand and boulders from the river and removal of shoreline vegetation adversely affected the presence of otter.
- Restoration of degraded habitats to meet the requirements of otters is the only option for their long-term conservation. Existing critical otter habitats should be identified and brought into the protected area network, and the wetlands and river basins forming otter habitat managed at a landscape level. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.