Karnataka now has the first-ever dedicated Otter Conservation Reserve situated downstream of the Tungabhadra river.
The Department of Forest, Environment and Ecology, through a gazette notification recently, declared an area, 34 km in length, downstream of the Tungabhadra riverbed as ‘Otter Conservation Reserve’. The reserve stretches from Mudlapura village near the dam in Koppal taluk till the bridge over the river in Kampli of Hosapete taluk in Ballari district.
The proposal was pending with the government for the last three years. With this notification, the forest department now aims to ensure that no developmental projects like drinking water or hydel are set up around Tungabhadra as it will affect the otter population. The animal is listed under Schedule-2, Part-2 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The decision to declare this area a reserve was taken during a meeting of the State Board for Wildlife of Karnataka held on July 15, 2014.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Ajay Misra, told Deccan Herald this was a first such reserve. It was proposed because the area is rich in otter population. The Cauvery and Kali rivers are protected by wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves around them.
Otter population is also found in these areas. On the other hand, the Tungabhadra region had none, despite a healthy breeding population. There was no focus on conservation, too. The area was disturbed because of the huge presence of humans indulging in fishing and cultivation. Now, with this status, everything will be controlled, he said.
In the case of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, where human presence is restricted, people are relocated and many conservation rules are imposed. This will not be done here as it is a conservation reserve. People will be allowed to stay and continue with their normal life, but in a regulated manner. Fishing will be regulated and conservation steps will be implemented, he said.
The area is home to a healthy population of Eurasian and smooth-coated otters. The notification points out that otters are threatened to several factors such as poaching, water poisoning, sand mining and discharge of untreated effluents. Villagers on both sides of the river cultivate sugar cane, banana, paddy, groundnut and maize. This increasing presence of humans is also a threat.
Santosh Martin, wildlife expert from Ballari, said a lot of otters were killed illegally by Bangladeshi immigrants residing in Sindhanur taluk of Raichur. These people are specialised hunters in otters and turtles. Though the trade in otters was busted in December 2012, many rackeeters still thrive. With such conservation efforts, this will come to an end.