More on otters in Jakarta

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.

Author: Erik Meijaard

Erik Meijaard is one of Mongabay’s bloggers who joined in September 2010. Erik is a passionate conservation scientist with a critical eye for the both sense and nonsense in conservation management and science. Based on nearly 20 years of in-country experience in Indonesia he has written extensively in both the scientific literature and in popular media on what he thinks is right and wrong about the way we go about conservation. This included a popular blog which he wrote for The Nature Conservancy. His experience in developing countries has shaped his thinking about the need to reconcile conservation with the development aspirations that many developing countries have. Ignoring those aspirations is not only arrogant or even verging on the neo-colonial, but it will ultimately work against us in achieving conservation objectives. From his home office in Jakarta, Erik runs the forest branch of PNC International, a small independent conservation consultancy. Erik has an academic background in tropical ecology and a PhD in biological anthropology. He has worked for several international NGOs and research organizations, including WWF-Netherlands and the Center for International Forestry Research. From 2004 to 2009, he worked for the Nature Conservancy Indonesia's forest program as its senior scientist and program manager. At the same time he was also closely involved with developing and implementing a USAID-funded orangutan conservation programs, first as chief of party, later as Kalimantan coordinator and conservation strategy planner. Erik has a wealth of experience working with the private sector, including timber and mining concessions, as well as plantations. His editorial experience with two newsletters, frequent publications in public and scientific fora, and media experience indicate Erik's strength as an effective communicator on forest conservation and management issues. Erik’s family accuse him of being obsessed with his laptop – they are right. Ultimately Erik will get out of this though, cut himself off from the internet, lean back in his rocking chair, and sip cold beer, preferably while looking over a nice sea or landscape. But that point hasn’t come yet, so keep an eye out for his blogs, which vary from the plain rambling to the highly insightful, but always aim to be constructive in the conservation debate – and hopefully bring a smile to people’s faces. After all, unless we can enjoy this world we live in, why bother conserving it? [Editor's note: Erik was interviewed at Indonesian people-not international donors or orangutan conservationists-will determine the ultimate fate of Indonesia's forests in 2010]

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