Surveys carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) have for the first time confirmed the presence of Smooth-coated Otter in the Seima Protection Forest (SPF).
It had been known for several years that otters were living in the rivers of Seima, but all evidence was based on tracks and spraints (otter feces) and it was impossible to know which species was found there. Three species of otter are found in Cambodia all of which are globally threatened Smooth-coated Otter, the Asian Small-clawed Otter (both vulnerable) and the endangered Hairy-nosed Otter and otter signs seen in Seima could have come from either of these species.
In order to understand more about the status of otters in Seima researchers from WCS teamed up with experts from CI to survey some of the streams and rivers that bisect the forest. The team from CI have searched for otters at sites all over Cambodia, and were keen to see which species were living in the hilly east of the country. The research team searched the river banks for signs of otters, recording the location of any evidence using a GPS unit. The researchers found signs of otters on all three river systems they investigated and installed camera-traps at several deep pools with the hope of obtaining photos of otters. In March 2010, after four weeks, the cameras were collected revealing several photos of otters in two locations. Otters can be hard to identify, even in photos, but consultations with experts around the world revealed that these are Smooth-coated Otters. In addition to this the team also conducted interviews with local residents about their knowledge of otters and where shown remains of an otter that proved to be Asian Small-clawed Otter. The villagers report that the animal was hunted locally, indicating that this species is also found in Seima.
In August 2009 managers of the Seima Protection Forest selected otters as a target for conservation as they represent healthy riverine ecosystems. Throughout Asia otters are under threat from the loss of their wetland habitat, over fishing, pollution and hunting. In Cambodia otter parts are thought to have medicinal properties and otters are hunted for their fur and skulls. This survey shows that otters are still found along the rivers of Seima, the information will be used to help the Forestry Administration design conservation strategies, such as preventing hunting and regulating fishing, to protect these animals, their habitat and all other species that depend on rivers and wetlands.