|Champion Swimmer's Rule #1: Keep your nose above the water|
My first brush with the Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) was back in 2008 when I saw one surface near a small rock islet in Ranganathittu bird sanctuary near Mysore. Seeing our boat it dived underwater immediately and we never saw it again.
|Curious otters look at their visitors|
Three years later I ran into them again in an irrigation channel near Mysore. On a random Saturday stroll along the agricultural lands around the outskirts of the city we heard a strange barking call from a brimming irrigation channel. A casual glance turned up nothing but a second later we saw a head rising from the water - it could have easily been mistaken for a shrivelled and dried coconut floating on water.
The otter then let itself be washed away downstream by the currents and we thought we had seen the last of it. But a few minutes later we saw the otter again with the rest of its group. There were about seven individuals and they were climbing up on to the agricultural land above using the roots of trees that were jutting out on the embankment.
|Check out the webbed feet!|
We followed the otters for about an hour, walking carefully to ensure that we didn't disturb them. They would enter the water and swim downstream and upstream, moving their flexible bodies like sine-waves when moving upstream, and to move downstream they just let themselves be carried by the currents, keeping their noses above the water.
On land they moved in fast bounds, stopping to crane their necks once in a while to ascertain that there was no lurking danger. A farmer's bicycle aroused ample interest, but lack of reciprocation of any kind disappointed them and they took to the water again.
About half a kilometre downstream, near habitation, the otters stopped, probably on hearing noises from workers in the fields. They started swimming upriver and we continued on our way, humbled and happy to have been taken into confidence by this charming family of semi-aquatic carnivores, and having been privy to their merry ways.
|Back to the water|
Smooth-coated Otters are the largest of the three species of otters found in India (of 13 species distributed worldwide) - the other two are the Small-clawed Otter and the Eurasian Otter. Increasing loss of the otter's habitat, which includes waterways and riparian habitats, has pushed list-makers at IUCN to place the Smooth-coated Otters in the Vulnerable category.
Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan
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