New otter species sighted

The Thrumshingla National Park (TNP) in Bumthang made a triumphant discovery of the presence of the world’s smallest otter called the Asian Small-clawed otter of the Mustelidae family this year.

Oblivious of its presence until recently, the otter was found to the south-east of the central park range office in Lingmethang which falls within the TNP jurisdiction.

The sighting of the otter has taken the park’s faunal diversity to yet another new level, the park now has two otter species including the one newly sighted Asian Small-clawed Otter and a common otter, Lutra lutra which was recorded before.

According to forest Official with TNP, Ugyen Namgyal, the otter was found in an enclosure by a farmer who caught it from the agriculture field located by the side of a stream called Morichu in Saling Geog under Mongar in Thrumshingla National Park area. The otter has been safely released into the Morichhu and is being monitored strictly.

He said that as per research, the Asian Small-clawed otter is found prominently in irrigated rice fields and they wander between patches of reeds and river debris and spend most of its time on land unlike most other otters. The sighting of Asian Small-clawed otter, scientifically named Aonyx cinerea was reported in 2004 in lower parts of Manas and Sankosh under the Royal Manas National Park jurisdiction.

The Asian Small- clawed otter is listed as “vulnerable” under the Red List of Threatened Species International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), 2014) and Appendix II, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as the otters are seriously threatened by the rapid habitat destruction, hunting and population. The otters are considered as an indicator species by the scientist since their population indicates the general health of their habitat and the health of other species in their habitat.

The otters are easily identified by its webbed paws and great manual dexterity that allow it to grab a variety animals living near the water’s edge. The female gives birth to a litter of up to six pups usually one or two after a gestation of 60 days. Otters are found in Indonesia, southern China, south India, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. They feed on crabs, mussels, frogs and snails. It is believed that the Asian Small-clawed otters can express themselves in a dozen or more calls that include distress calls for when they are in trouble.

Bhutan is considered to be one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Such a tagging is befitting, for Bhutan has been able to maintain large forest coverage, both rich and intact. This provision provides a safe haven for many floral and faunal species to thrive unperturbed. Moreover, the huge altitudinal ranges that rises from tropical forest in the south to the alpine region in the north is also a reason why Bhutan is home to a huge collection of flora and fauna.

TNP is home for more than 69 species of mammals and 622 plants species, comprising of 152 medicinal plants and 21 species endemic in the country.

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