Eurasian Otter Research and Conservation in Georgia

Donor: BP Exploration (Caspian Sea) Ltd-Georgia
Project Implementation Period: 2006 - 2007

Once the population of Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) currently found in the Red Data List was spread on the whole territory of Georgia. At present it is considered to be critically endangered…

The otter is a "flagship" species of aquatic ecosystems. They can highlight environmental restoration and its attractive appearance and behaviour can be used to educate and increase public awareness and support for environmental issues.

As the top predator in aquatic ecosystems the otter is considered an important biological indicator of the health of rivers and wetlands. Monitoring the status and distribution of the otter population therefore gives us a good measure of the state of aquatic ecosystems, and will help us to preserve their habitats.

We face serious conflict between man and otter these days. This conflict chiefly deals with the lack of environmental education and the low rate of environmental awareness. Owners of the fish-farms strongly feel hostility towards an otter. The results of the NACRES survey are as follows: 22 from 28 fish-farm owners heatedly argue that an otter is the main threat to their business and thus they are keen to kill the animal.

Our project concentrates on the conservation of the critically endangered Eurasian otter. We chose the target territory along the river Alazani for several reasons: nearly 300 fish-farms are located on the territory. One can find both small ponds and very huge artificial lakes (150 hectares) there. Nearly 30 otters can be found on the above-mentioned area. Otters that can hardly find their feed in their natural environment appear to be frequent visitors of the fish-farms. There are sufficient reasons to be concerned. To our opinion, forestry and building shelters for domestic animals on the target territory cause a seasonal movement of an otter. Thus, otters usually find a shelter on the marshy area of the forest or on the so-called islands of the Alazani River. Moreover, the main food for an otter is a crucian carp spread in the small canals. The results of the NACRES research show that the recent (especially during the year 2006) processes such as drying of canals caused by irrigational system destruction and illegal fishing (i.e. uses of electricity, dynamite, poison) sufficiently reduced fish supply and consequently the food for an otter. NACRES research reveals the critical essence of the problem we face. Otter is an indicator of water ecosystem. The fact that otters leave their natural dwellings and visit the artificial fish-farms, gives us a sign of water habitat destruction.

NACRES has been studying otter population for several years. One of the methods we use for our research during the implementation of the above-mentioned project is a method of radio-tracking well approbated throughout the world.

The preparation period of the project lasted for a long time. We practiced our skills with the help of our Dutch partners. Within the frames of the project, Dutch experts made a 20-day visit to Georgia.

The project began in February. Basic ecological studies were carried out using modern techniques (e.g. radio telemetry) to investigate feeding habits, seasonal and daily movement patterns of otter in the target area.

In order to increase the understanding of the impact of pollution on Alazani River and neighbouring fish farms, field studies were undertaken to determine level and sources of heavy metals and other pollutants in prey species and habitat. Our studies revealed that usually otters cause slight damage to the fish-farms that is not even worth mentioning. That’s just several fish animals steal from the fish-farms.

Chiefly, otter is considered to be a victim of public unawareness. Traps are set all along the river side (these traps are aimed to catch an otter and raccoon) resemble mined roads.

Time after time the project team holds meetings and consultations for the fish-farm employees to increase their environmental awareness. In the end of the project, the fish-farm employees and local authorities will be given a package of recommendations and prevention measures to reduce the Human-wildlife conflict.

The project will be finished in January 2007. The results of the NACRES studies will promote the environmental assessment of the Alazani territory and the survival of the critically endangered species.

For detailed information please contact Giorgi Gorgadze, the project coordinator:  giorgi.gorgadze@nacres.org

 

Contact Information: Mailing Address - 0179 Tbilisi-Georgia
Courier Address - 12a Abashidze Street, 0179 Tbilisi, Georgia. - Tel: (+995-32) 23 37 06 - Fax: (+995-32) 53 71 24
E-mail: administrator@nacres.org
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All photos were taken by members of NACRES staff

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