More on otters in Jakarta

by | 20th December 2010

I had some really good feedback on a previous blog about a family of Asian small-clawed otters that I had seen in Jakarta.

A Jakarta resident wrote to me that he had observed relatively large numbers of otters for some time near his home in south Jakarta, not far from the area where I live.In fact, the otters were at one time so common that they used to keep him awake at night with their whistling calls. He used to watch groups as large as 16 individuals searching for freshwater crabs, which seems to be their staple food.

If you have never been to Jakarta you would understand that this sounds quite bizarre. Jakarta is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Its rivers are more or less open sewers with large amounts of garbage floating in it. Populations of pretty rare freshwater species such as otters would be last thing to expect.

Then again, otters probably only need a few things to survive and thrive: food, shelter, and nothing that kills them outright.

Food may be plenty in Jakarta heavily ‘fertilized’ rivers. They can probably also find shelter in the city’s many waterways and deep gutter system designed to cope with the copious tropical rains. And what Jakarta may lack compared to rural and more natural areas is hunters. People here are unlikely to go shooting birds and mammals, which is a common elsewhere in the country.

It would be great to understand these otters a little better–what a fascinating object for a committed wildlife student. Such studies and some good communication could help spread the message that nature conservation can and should happen everywhere. Not just in distant forests that hardly anyone here will ever visit. But in your backyard, and the rivers that you cross every day on your way to work.

There is plenty of work to be done. Presently the Jakarta authorities are dredging the river to improve through-flow and reduce the annual flooding problem. But in that process the river bank vegetation is destroyed and with that probably a real oasis of wildlife supported by this river. Did anyone actually carry out an environmental impact analysis before the dredging and spared a thought for otters and other wildlife species?

I am sure Jakarta’s authorities have many problems to cope with and otters won’t be high on their list of priorities. But the otters could potentially help them showcase improved management of the city’s freshwater ecosystem, the cleaning up of rivers, the planting of riverside vegetation. It might be a relatively easy start of showing that the country is actually able to effectively manage its incredible biodiversity.

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