Otters of Uganda

This project aims to understand three species of otter present in Uganda, where & how they live and the threats they face. 

The Brief:

Freshwater ecosystems are vital to the survival of most species, including our own. Unfortunately, these ecosystems are also among the most threatened habitats globally, and are experiencing the highest rates of species loss. As the human population continues to grow, so does the demand for land and water, further increasing pressure on wetlands which are prime otter habitats. 

This is particularly true in Uganda, where about fifteen percent of its land cover consists of wetlands that include five major lakes (Victoria, Albert, Kyoga, Edward and George), about 160 minor lakes, an extensive riverine system, as well as small dams and ponds. These wetlands exhibit an abundance of biodiversity and provide a wide range of ecosystem services for the local human communities who depend on them  for their livelihoods and survival, particularly for fishing and agriculture. In recent decades, habitat loss, pollution and an increase in the effects of climate change are all taking a severe toll on Ugandan lakes and wetlands, impacting the flora, fauna and human communities that depend on them. 

Why is this important?

As an umbrella species, otters depend on healthy wetlands for their survival, but they also play an important role in regulating and maintaining the function of these very same ecosystems. Essentially a give and take relationship, one that needs to be understood in order to be managed and conserved.  

An initial review of the published literature suggests that historically, three species of otter have ranges in Uganda: the African-clawless otter (Aonyx capensis), the spotted-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicollis) and the Congo-clawless otter (Aonyx congicus). However, there has been limited formal study, resulting in data deficits and knowledge gaps. This study will be instrumental in establishing a baseline of otter distributions as well as expand existing knowledge on the habitat preferences, ecology and threats to these three otter species, thereby facilitating future research and conservation management.

How will this happen?

Our study will begin by identifying areas of otter presence in and around a few lakes and swamps in southern Uganda (see proposal for study area details ), locations that were chosen based on historical literature and some anecdotal reports of otter sightings in the area. We will also document the ecology, habitat, behaviour and threats to otters in those locations. 

A major component of this study will be our interaction with local communities, to understand and gather current and historical information about otters. This might include conflict issues and threats but is also meant to spread awareness about these species, create stewardship and foster positivity towards otters and their habitats.

As charismatic indicators of wetland health, otters could draw attention to larger issues affecting the ecosystems they inhabit, including water quality, habitat degradation, chemical pollution from pesticide runoff, mining and tourism exploitation, high fishing pressure, and other anthropogenic activities that will have an impact on the river ecosystem.

What has been achieved so far:

1. Feasible study proposal with a timeline for execution.
2. Project permits from the Uganda Wildlife Authority already granted.
3. Small equipment grant from Idea Wild which includes camera traps, binoculars and a GPS. 

In progress is:

1. Our application to the Ugandan department of Science and technology.
2. Securing ethical clearance from the ethics committee at Clarke International University, Uganda. 

This project is a partnership between Green Mountain Initiative, Uganda and Wild Otters Research, India, with support from the IUCN SSC Otter Specialist Group and African otter network.

You can also find more details on the current project status and budget.
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Patricia Bennetto

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